Half Nelson

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling, The Notebook) teaches and coaches in a neighborhood high school. He’s well liked by his class and his methods are a little different from what you’d expect from a teacher—much like his drug-fuelled personal life. When Drey (Shareeka Epps in her feature film debut), one of his students, stumbles upon him smoking up in the locker room, the pair form a bond and end up helping each other out with their respective personal woes.
If you still think of Gosling as that pretty boy who got to make out with Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, think again. He really flexes his acting muscle in this one and pulls off a superb performance. If it was for him alone, this movie would already be worth the price of entry, but when you combine his acting chops with that of Epps, this becomes a must-see. The two play off each other incredibly well and their chemistry, despite (or possibly because of) their differences, is astounding. Epps gives a very impressive turn. Her subtlety speaks volumes, as she portrays the perfect mix of pathos and resilience.
The story by director Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (this being the pair’s first feature film outing) takes its time but never feels like it’s plodding along, especially not with such interesting characters. But the one thing we really loved about it is that, unlike other teacher/student movies, there’re no overtly weepy moments—just genuine ones. Fleck’s camera work does get a bit shaky (akin to his earlier documentary work) and this distracts a little, but it certainly doesn’t take you out of the film.
With a pair of leads that work so well together and an honest story, this is a fantastic movie that isn’t weepy, but will move you nonetheless.
You’ll Dig Half Nelson If You Liked: Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester and Dangerous Minds. Oh, alright, you got us—we were only kidding about Dangerous Minds.