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Genre: Drama
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Shareeka Epps
Director: Ryan Fleck
Rating: M18 (Drug References & Scene of Intimacy)
Year Made: 2006







Languages: English
Subtitles: English
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins
Region Code: PAL 3
Distributor: InnoF
orm Media




Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young inner-city junior high school teacher whose ideals wither and die in the face of reality. Day after day in his shabby Brooklyn classroom, he somehow finds the energy to inspire his 13 and 14-year-olds to examine everything from civil rights to the Civil War with a new enthusiasm. Rejecting the standard curriculum in favor of an edgier approach, Dan teaches his students how change works – on both a historical and personal scale – and how to think for themselves.

Though Dan is brilliant, dynamic, and in control in the classroom, he spends his time outside school on the edge of consciousness. His disappointments and disillusionment have led to a serious drug habit. He juggles his hangovers and his homework, keeping his lives separated, until one of his troubled students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), catches him getting high after school.

From this awkward beginning, Dan and Drey stumble into an unexpected friendship. Despite the differences in their ages and situations, they are both at an important intersection. Depending on which way they turn – and which choices they make – their lives will change.


The moment this reviewer sees the movie’s protagonist, Dan Dunne, dragging himself out of bed and going to the bathroom to wash up for a new day ahead, he feels this strange connection – well, except that he isn’t as ruggedly attractive as Ryan Gosling. If this reviewer looked half as good as Gosling wearing a crumpled shirt and a scruffily knotted tie, he wouldn’t mind doing away with his usual T-shirt and jeans routine.

But that’s beside the point, because what will strike the lonely urbanite is this movie’s honest look at what marks the ideal ambition we all once had, contrasted with what eventually happens in reality. And it doesn’t matter that the movie is set in an inner city located in Brooklyn, where drugs, racism and violence plaque the people.

Gosling’s Dunne is a teacher who has ideals of a true education system where students are supposed to truly understand the importance of history instead of just memorizing facts and figures. But alas, in the harsh world, things often do not go your way. It doesn’t help that Dunne has some of his own wounds to heal amidst all these, coupled with a serious drug habit that any educator wouldn’t be proud of. One day, a student sees him using drugs and a unique friendship develops between the two.

While most films of such genre are morally uplifting and hopeful, this picture directed by Ryan Fleck has a melancholic feel to it, and engagingly so too. We wee two lonely souls trying to connect with each other amidst the chaos around them. We see one lonely man trying to find balance in his life. We see a young girl trying to understand the state of things around her. And all these will make you reflect upon how you have lived your life so far.

Everyone turns in an honest and affective performance here: From Gosling Oscar nominated portrayal of a lost educator to Shareeka Epps’s angst interpretation of a local student and Anthony Mackie’s showy role of a drug dealer. The camera work may not be the best cinematography you’ve seen, but the gritty approach works well for this film. Couple that with some cool tunes performed by independent group Broken Social Science and you’d have yourself a captivating drama that’s refreshing to watch. The 102 minute movie may not change your life drastically, but as long as it sets you thinking about which direction you’ll head in life next, it would have done its job.


This Code 3 disc contains no special features.


The visual transfer is somewhat grainy, while the movie is dubbed in presented in its original English audio track. 



Review by John Li


. Half Nelson (Movie Review)

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This review is made possible with the kind support from InnoForm Media


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