“Half Nelson”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
Theatrical Release Date:  August 11, 2006

Sometimes people are attracted to each other because of their differences. When there’s a nebulous attraction between a teacher and a young teenage child–as in the superb Half Nelson–the relationship has all the makings of confused disaster. Though there are a few uncomfortable moments when it’s not obvious whether Dan (Ryan Gosling) and Drey (Shareeka Epps) might cross the line, the attraction between the pair is culled less from sexual tension than desperation.

Dan is an idealistic history teacher in an inner-city school. Drey is one of his brightest students. For both, drugs represent something that may help them escape their worlds. He takes drugs to dull his dissatisfaction with himself.  She views drugs as a possible way to better her life, even though she knows her brother’s foray into that trade landed him in jail.

Bleakly filmed and well told, Half Nelson soars because of the immaculate acting by Gosling and Epps. With his impish smile, Gosling provides a character that is at once disarming, alluring, and pitiful. As the young girl who’s already seen too much hardship in her life, Epps plays her part with just the right amount of hardened raw emotion.

While the ambiguous ending may not please fans weaned on happy Hollywood finales, it’s a fitting and believable close to a thought-provoking film.

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