Half Nelson (2006)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Ryan Fleck
Run Time
1 hour and 46 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will face stricter judgment.

James 3:1

I have always loved films with a caring teacher as the central figure, probably going back go seeing Good Bye, Mr. Chips when I was a child. Over the years a number of films have centered on a caring teacher making a difference in the lives of their students—Stand and Deliver; Freedom Writers; Dangerous Minds; Dead Poets’ Society; and many more. The teacher in director co-writer (with Anna Boden) Ryan Fleck’s film is dedicated to his students, but has succumbed to the pressures such dedication exacts upon inner-city teachers.

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) loves his work and seeks to help his students achieve their potential—in his case Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of his brightest students. The girl’s mother is seldom with her because she works two jobs, and the girl’s brother is in jail. There is no father in Drey’s life, so Dan often gives the girl a ride home from school. He becomes worried about Drey when he sees Frank (Anthony Mackie), a drug dealing friend of Drey’s brother is hanging out with her in an apparent attempt to lure her into the illicit business. Hi fears are justified, as we see.

Dan coaches the girls’ basketball team. His former girlfriend Rachel (Tina Holmes) drops into the gym one day during practice, but Dan turns down her offer to go out afterward for coffee. That night after the game Dan’s body reacts to the drugs he has been taking to help him cope, so he rushes into the locker room to freebase cocaine. It is here that Drey comes upon him, passed out from the drug.

Matters take more complicated turns as Dan’s life continues to spiral downward. He becomes estranged from his own family and even turns hostile toward Drey, telling her that they are not friends. However, she will not give up on him, even as she becomes more enmeshed in serving as Frank’s agent in drug dealing. When he fails to show up for school one day because he is so under the spell of drugs, she seeks him out in the motel room where she had delivered drugs to a party Frank was attending. What follows suggests that maybe there will be a brighter future for the both of them.

This is a film almost unique among teacher films. There is no overt moment of triumph accompanied by uplifting music. It is a gritty story of a flawed, almost burnt out, teacher and a student almost on the verge of descending into her own abyss. And therefore, a very memorable movie experience in which your admiration for actor Ryan Gosling will increase. The young actress Shareeka Epps is also excellent as the imperiled Drey. It is a breath of fresh air to see what amounts to a reversal in the relationship of the caring teacher and the needy student. The film celebrates the power of an unusual friendship to bring a measure of healing and hope into a blighted life—no, not one, but two lives.

 This review will be in the August issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


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