May 2, 2007

Half Nelson

Last night I saw Half Nelson (yeah, we had to wait this long for the film to be released in Australia) and I can't stop thinking about it. It's a film of quiet brilliance, acted with unequivocal grace and beauty, it will resonate deeply with anyone who sees it. There is not a lot of plot, its mainly about revealing of character, but essentially it tells the story of history teacher Daniel Dunne (Ryan Gosling) and the relationship he has with his students in a predominately African-American Brooklyn High School. One student in particular Drey (Shareeka Epps) becomes pivotal as she forms a friendship with him. Mature beyond her 13 years, Drey knows that Dunne has his own issues in dealing with life. He is an unconventional teacher, trying unorthodox methods to enliven debate whilst trying to teach the students about the Civil Rights movement. Without giving too much away let's just say that his issues are drug related and another major character is Frank (Anthony Mackie) who acts as some sort of bridge between the two worlds of Daniel and Drey. Sure this just sounds like any other story of inner city drug problems and heroic teacher overcoming the odds. But trust me this film, by first time director Ryan Fleck, is far removed from cliche. There is no false bravado, no inspiring speeches, no pivotal scene where problems are solved and a resolution is made. This is just an honest, beautiful story of the struggles of life. The acting is truly superb, newcomer Epps is as stoic a teenager you will ever see portrayed on screen and Gosling confirms his reputation as one of the finest young actors going around. His vulnerable, tender performance will break your heart. A minor quibble is with the photography, it is always pulled closed in and sometimes poorly framed. I suppose to give the film a verite feel, but after a while it becomes less distracting as the power of the story will take over. Go and see this film, it will not disappoint.

I do have to mention the score. It is truly superb, one of the best I have heard for quite a while. And I don't mean in a "gee, these songs are great" kind of away. There are great songs, but a lot of the music is instrumental and it fits perfectly into the quietness of the film. Never intruding into a scene, but just complementing it ideally. I loved hearing Billy Bragg's "New England" but it is the work of Canadian sonic masters Broken Social Scene that steal the show. Using mainly their instrumental work, everything just fits right. "Mossbraker", "Passport Radio", "Blues for Uncle Gibb", "Da Da Da Da", "Stars and Sons" and the sublime "Shampoo Suicide" can all be heard to full affect. However the instrumental and "Bee Hives" versions of "Lover's Spit" will leave you reeling. Truly transcendent. See this film and then buy the soundtrack.


  • At May 02, 2007 , Anonymous nikki said...

    i loved this film so much. It was just so moving. Also everytime a BSS song came on I smiled.


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