HALF NELSON: CHARACTER STUDY IN DRUG ADDICTION
Half Nelson is not your basic story about a teacher trying to save inner city kids. Ryan Gosling is a standout as a drug addicted teacher. The movie is a vehicle solely for him. There is a role reversal of sorts with a student trying to save him. This student is played by Shareeka Epps. They have a chemistry onscreen that dares you to look away.
Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a history teacher in New York. He interacts well with his students. Drey (Shareeka Epps) is one of his students. Her brother is in jail because of Frank (Anthony Mackie). Her mom is an EMT that is never home. She never sees her dad. Drey catches Mr. Dunne smoking cracking one night after a basketball game. They begin a friendship. He tries looking out for her and vice versa.
This is not the same old story about the teacher being the hero. It’s not about being black versus white. It is about two people who need support and friendship in their lives. Ryan Gosling is probably best known for his role in The Notebook. He excels at playing this desperate teacher just trying to make it through each day. You feel the loss of hope. Epps is strong as Drey. She puts on a front to show that she is capable of taking care of herself that is heartbreaking. Anthony Mackie as Frank is not your typical drug dealer that is a clear cut bad guy. He wants to look out for Drey while her brother is in jail. Dan’s apartment expresses how a drug addict lives. There is the mattress on the floor with the bare minimum for furniture. You can almost smell the filth. New York is only visible on Drey’s mom’s EMT uniform. But the surroundings could be any city in the country. This story could be happening anywhere on any given day.
The pace of the film lost its way a few times. It slows down where you are left waiting for the next thing to happen.
The chemistry between the cast carries this movie. Gosling did his research to portray this drug addict and it shows. A different take on the teacher student dynamic is bracing.