47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
|home | what's on | reviews | join | the society | mailing list | discussion forum|
Ryan Fleck, USA, 2006, 106 minutes
This liberal urban drama from first-time director Ryan Fleck was awarded prizes at seemingly every indie film festival last year. A brazen character study about an idealistic inner-city high school teacher, Dan Dunne (a very convincing performance from Ryan Gosling), it is most remarkable for the political subtext that pervades the entire film. Building on an impressive résume (The Believer; The Notebook), Gosling has once again shown searing talent which should reap the usual financial rewards of a deserved Oscar-nomination.
Though his personal life is in disarray and his longtime cocaine addiction continues, Dunne nevertheless retains an enthusiastic demeanour in class, and his unorthodox teaching style is popular with his students. In particular, he bonds with an African-American girl named Drey after she stumbles upon him wasted in the school locker-room. Their relationship is precarious from the outset, as Dunne’s dealer happens to be a makeshift father-figure for Drey. While both men seemingly wish to improve her welfare their moral responsibility is naturally brought into question.
In an age when dramatic films mostly eschew politics fearing its ‘box-office poison’ reputation, Half Nelson (referring to a discomforting wrestling hold) cleverly shows the overriding social problems that affect Drey’s life, from the school’s crime-ridden neighborhood , to the usual complexities of a broken family (absent father, sibling in prison) in a turbulent, patriarchal nation. Optimism is rife in Dunne’s character though, who believes in the old adage that changing just one life makes a difference, and is the key to his survival. This mature and nuanced film, something increasingly rare in mainstream cinema, is strongly recommended.
Review by Chay Williamson
Written for EUFS Programme Autumn 2007