Half Nelson

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Review byMatthew Turner27/10/2006

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 107 mins

Opens London Film Festival: 27th October

A welcome antidote to the usual cliches of the inspirational teacher movie, this is sharply written and superbly acted by Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps.

What's it all about?
Ryan Gosling plays Daniel Dunne, a history teacher at a Brooklyn high school whose students respond to him, thanks to his likeable personality and his frequent deviations from the school curriculum. However, outside of class Daniel has a powerful self-destructive streak, which leads to him getting caught smoking crack in the school locker room by one of his students (Shareeka Epps as Drey).

Drey's own family has been torn apart by drugs, so instead of turning Daniel in she looks after him and the two begin a tentative friendship. In turn, Daniel becomes concerned about the interest that a local drug dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie) is taking in Drey.

The Good
The inspirational teacher movie is one of cinema's most enjoyable genres, throwing up classics such as Goodbye Mr Chips and Dead Poets Society. However, it's also horribly prone to the worst possible cliches (see Dangerous Minds or that one with Samuel L Jackson in it), so Half Nelson comes as a welcome addition to the genre, giving the usual cliches a solid kick in the teeth.

Gosling is superb as a man who holds his life together in the classroom but has trouble functioning in the outside world – his self-destructive behaviour is painful to watch. Shareeka Epps is a revelation as Drey, her tough, perma-scowled face hiding genuine heartache and her desire for a personal connection (the relationship between Dunne and Frank is played out as a struggle between two potential father figures).

The Great
Writer-director Ryan Fleck directs with a low key, intimate style, reworking one of his earlier short films into an impressive feature with something to say and intercutting with several of the students giving to-camera presentations about important events in American history.

Worth seeing?
Superbly directed, brilliantly acted and genuinely moving. Recommended.

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Content updated: 24/02/2020 06:10

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