Half Nelson ***
At the end of the summer, the big studio releases are slowly winding down, and the chance to see fighting pirates, superheros, and talking cars begins to disappear, and a bigger question begins to surface: What films will be nominated for Oscars at the start of 2007? I can say now that it is a sure fire bet that Ryan Gosling, the star and main character of "Half Nelson" will have an Actor nomination, and will most likely be the underdog. If he will win or not, that is tough to say because the year is still young, but I know he'll be chosen for something.
I'll admit from the start that "Half Nelson" is nothing new when it comes down to plot and storytelling, but the acting is above average, especially by the two stars, including Shareeka Epps, who is a perfect match for young Gosling. Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a history teacher at a junior high school in an inner city neighborhood. Dunne's life is nothing special, and he's been living with his eyes closed for a while now. He's trying to write a children's book, but hasn't even been able to start it, and when he's not working at the school, teaching the philisophy that history is the result of change over time, he's either out in the nightlife looking for women and drugs, or sitting on the floor of his apartment. Dan has a horrid addiction to crack, and he's been living his life without any emotions or feelings: Just living. That is, until he is caught by one of his students, Dree, when she finds him in the school locker room after a basketball game, passed out with the still lit pipe in his hands. From that moment on, Dree and Dan start a sort of friendship between one another. Dan gives Dree a ride home every day. The student's mother works throughout the whole day, and her father doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with her. Dree, sadly, has also been befriending Frank, a neighborhood dealer. Dan doesn't want Dree to have anything to do with Frank, and he doesn't want her to end up like him. He knows that he is screwed up, but he doesn't want to see others be as screwed up as he is. So, he decides to try to not let his addiction get in the way of his work: trying to teach these kids, and trying to keep Dree out of danger.
Overall, "Half Nelson" is really a commentary on the ability to change. Dan teaches how history if the result of change, but at the same time he can't seem to try and change his own history. He watches his ex-girlfriend come visit him, a former drug addict who went to meetings and is now getting married, and he wishes that he could be like that. He lies to his new love interest that he is clean, and he does drugs every now and again to get by. But in fact, there is nothing that he could do. He has given up, and he only wants to live his life from one high to the next. And maybe he isn't the one that needs to save Dree from drugs, but he is the one that needs saving. There is nothing really fresh about "Half Nelson" and as a movie itself, it's nothing special. It's shot on a very low budget, with a handheld camera. Normally, I'm not a big fan of shaky camera work, but I'll admit it is effective here. Dan is unstable, and it's important that we see things from his eyes. Dree is also confused and lonely, and the up and down of the camera also sees things from her viewpoint as well. This isn't only Dan's story, but her's as well, and it's important to see that they are equals, even though they have a massive age difference between them. I have a feeling that "Half Nelson" will be overly praised, when in fact it's simply an preformance driven work. This film really wasn't worth the 105 minute running time that we are presented, and it could have been cut down greatly. But preformances alone are worth the price of the ticket, and the word of mouth for "Half Nelson" should sprend in the coming weeks. This isn't the last we've heard of it.