Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Half Nelson

2006 Sundance Film Festival
★ ★
Half Nelson is another Sundance addiction movie, where we have the pleasure of watching Ryan Gosling play Dan, an inner-city junior high school teacher and basketball coach whose life is spinning out of control. The movie centers around his relationship with one of his students and basketball players, Dre (Shareeka Epps), a 13-year-old black girl. Dre is a bright, responsible and friendly girl who is trying to find her way with a difficult home and family situation. Dan befriends Dre and genuinely tries to help her. But there is a creepiness to their relationship that leaves you constantly dreading the worst. In fact, the whole movie feels like you’re waiting for something bad to happen. And given Dan is a drug addict, bad things do happen again and again.

And then, you know, the movie ends.

The acting is really pretty good on all counts. Gosling is more than a pretty face--a genuine talent and always impressive. (I really liked him with David Morse in Slaughter Rule at Sundance 2002.) Epps is excellent as well, given her youth and lack of experience. And the supporting performance are consistently good. But Half Nelson never goes beyond a relationship movie, and while it's not bad, it is rather painful to watch. I think most movie-goers would like to see a better defined sense of story, with a plot, conflict resolution, etc.


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