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  Publicity Stills of "Half Nelson"
(Courtesy from The Picturehouse)

Genre: Drama
Director: Ryan Fleck
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie and introducing Shareeka Epps
RunTime: 1 hr 46 mins
Released By: The Picturehouse
Rating: M18 (Drug References & Scene of Intimacy)

Opening Day: 1 Feb 2007


Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is an idealistic junior high school teacher who inspires his 13 and 14-year-olds to examine everything from civil rights to Civil War with a new enthusiasm. Rejecting the standard curriculum in favor of an edgier approach, Dan teaches his students how change works - both on a historical and personal scale. Though Dan can get it together in the classroom, he spends his time outside school on the edge of consciousness. Dealing with a serious drug habit, Dan is a strung-out role model who juggles his hangovers and his homework 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 ...

Movie Review:

There are films that make you review your outlook in life. And then there are films which remind you of who you are, and what have made you who you are today.

This surprise hit directed by independent filmmaker Ryan Fleck provides an extremely honest look at our aspirations, our dreams, our ideals – those that we still have, as well as those that died along the way.

The earnest Ryan Gosling (almost every female we know adore his performance in Nick Cassavetes’ The Notebook) plays a white teacher in a black town. There, he inspires young students with his energy and passion in teaching serious topics like civil rights and philosophy. But outside the classroom, drugs take over his enthusiastic self, and depression gets the better of him. When a student sees him taking drugs, an unlikely friendship gradually develops.

Think you have seen this before in movies like Dangerous Minds (1995), Akeelah and the Bee (2006) and even the upcoming Freedom Writers (2007)? While these movies have been successfully inspiring, this arthouse favourite adds a brilliantly sincere touch which looks at situations which you and I hold dear to our hearts.

Viewers will especially empathize with Gosling’s character, about the inevitable reality that preoccupies him everyday, the past he is unwilling to let go, the ideals he had, and the want to hold on to something never quite attainable. In a memorable bare and stark scene, an ex-girlfriend dishes him a scathing line “some people actually change”, which entirely crashes his world.

When laid out bare, some things can really break your heart.

And Gosling plays this character with impressive intensity. After earning himself a Breakthrough Performance by an Actor in last year’s National Board of Review, the young and good-looking actor is up against some fierce competition at the upcoming Oscars for the award of Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Even if he does not bring home the statuette, he has already won our hearts in the most affecting ways.

Complementing this character is another impressive child actor Shareeka Epps who plays the young girl who adds another dimension to the 106-minute picture. She represents the ideals that we all once had, and the crossroad that we were faced with. Hence, the two characters together results in a fine chemistry which will stir you emotionally.
Yet, this is not a movie about self-depreciation and depression. It is about how we redeem ourselves in the darkest periods of our lives, and not spiral and wallow in pity. The movie engages you without having to resort to melodrama and the usual tons of sad tears.

In fact, the edginess adopted by Fleck brings us on an open journey of life as it looks at possible real-life situations out in context of a suburban town. What we have is an entirety that everyone can relate to universally.

There may be no ups and downs, climaxes and emotional dramas in this movie. But you’d be rewarded with a richly truthful production that boasts of a heartfelt screenplay and charming performances that will touch you in the simplest way.

Movie Rating:

(Earnest performances and a thoughtful screenplay make this movie a worthy watch)

Review by John Li

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