Saturday, February 17, 2007

Video Review: Half Nelson

Half Nelson

In Brief: What's Almost Redeemable

  • Really good performance by Ryan Gosling.

In Brief: What's Just Plain Bad

  • Length and pace are both horrible.

  • Boring interaction between characters.

  • A few scenes, especially in the beginning, use "shaky-cam" way too much.

  • All the characters, except one, seem to be oblivious of Gosling's character's drug problem. The one that does know, doesn't seem to be bothered by it much. Many of the supporting characters, given blank stares and pointless dialogue to work with, seem to be on auto-pilot.

  • No real closure to the story (literally, none whatsoever).

F Story
B Acting
D Directing
D Visuals

Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a drug-addicted teacher and girls basketball coach in an inner-city junior high school. He forms an unlikely relationship with a student named Drey, played by Shareeka Epps, after she discovers his secret addiction.

This is one of the harder movies to review. From my score, it's obvious that I found it significantly lacking, but the movie doesn't necessarily contain huge problems to nitpick over. It's more accurate to say the movie simply doesn't have much story at all, and for what little story does exist there is very little growth, direction, or resolution.

From what I've read on the internet, the movie is based on a 19-minute short film. The feature length version still seems to have 19 minutes or less of story, but it's stretched out to 107 minutes and spackled with filler. Some of the filler includes the introduction of Dan's ex-girlfriend who went through rehab and moved on with her life, a few scenes showing Dan dating a fellow teacher, and the introduction of Dan's family.

In a better written movie, these scenes would serve as character development. But, in this movie, those scenes seem pointless except maybe to further emphasize how Dan's drug habit keeps him from being happier and functioning more normally, something that was clearly established early in the movie with little effort. Otherwise, we really don't learn much about Dan, or why he's addicted, or whether he has hope of cleaning up, just by meeting these other people in his life.

One scene that brings a glimmer of depth to the movie involves Dan confronting Frank, another adult friend of Drey's. Dan is concerned that Frank is a bad influence on Drey. For a moment, we see Dan nearly realize his own hypocrisy, and it's also implied that maybe Dan has befriended Drey in some attempt to define meaning in his own life. We also learn later in the movie whether or not Dan is justified in his concerns about Frank.

This movie wears its "indie" status like a badge of honor, but for me, that's not always a good thing. Unlike many limited-release, Oscar-buzz movies of 2006 that have felt a little more mainstream and entertaining than usual, Half Nelson feels slow (too slow), artsy, self-important, and ultimately pointless. Intercut with the ongoing story are video clips of historical events and students doing monologues about civil rights. The movie feels like it's trying to make a profound statement, but it's not entirely clear what that statement is. You might say that the movie has depth but without any clarity. Perhaps the short film is as profound as it's meant to be, but stretched out into a feature length movie, the story becomes a dull, depressing, and unsatisfactory exploration into drug-induced despair.

Oscar Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actor: Ryan Gosling

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actor: Ryan Gosling

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

The movie, directed by Ryan Fleck and co-written by Fleck and Anna Boden, is based on a 19-minute short film also made by Fleck & Boden, entitled "Gowanus, Brooklyn."

Fun Fact from Internet Movie Database

The film was shot in 23 days and finished one day ahead of schedule.

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