Posted to Movies at 04:07 PM on May 3, 2007
2006. Hunting Lane Films. Directed by Ryan Fleck. Starring Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie, and Jay O. Sanders.
I keep trying to think of eloquent things to say about this movie. I want to mention Shareeka Epps' wise-beyond-her-years performance. I wanted to mention the smart script and the gritty depiction of drug use and inner city life. But I keep coming back to Ryan Gosling's big, sad eyes.
I have yet to see Forest Whitaker's Oscar-winning turn as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, but for now, I think Gosling was robbed. He plays Dan Dunn, a teacher who just happens to be a crackhead.
It takes a good actor, working in tandem with a brilliant director, to make an audience fall in love with such a troubled character. Dan Dunn is so far gone, he can barely remember the names of any of his former students and he's been reduced to sneaking drugs in the school locker room after basketball games. He is trying to keep a gifted student (Epps) out of the clutches of a drug lord neighbor, Frank (Mackie), but can't get it together long enough to even formulate a convincing argument for anything. He's full of crap, and Frank knows it.
Somehow, though, you really can't help but want to help Dan. It's obvious that living with his ex-hippie parents didn't do him any favors. The scene where Dan visits them could be manipulative and melodramatic, but it works, thanks to all three of them. Jay O. Sanders has yet to play a sympathetic character in anything, and he's an egotistical jerkwad of a dad in this film, but his attempts to make amends ring true. And Dan's reluctance to let him rings even more true.
Next to Gosling's big, sad eyes, the best part of Half Nelson is Shareeka Epps. She's the child of a single mom and is painfully smart and precocious. She's been basically raised by her neighbors, since her mom works two jobs. She's got some serious armor around her. But the look on her face when she discovers Dan, in a bathroom stall, with a pipe? Whoa. And the very last scene? She's incredible.
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