- Jones, Therese
- Date of entry: Jan-19-2009
- Last revised: Jan-16-2009
Screenwriter and director Ryan Fleck expanded his award-winning short film--Gowanus, Brooklyn-- into the 2007 feature-length drama, Half-Nelson. The central character of the film is Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an eighth-grade history teacher struggling to make the subject relevant to his students at a troubled school in the heart of poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Brooklyn. His creativity in the classroom and his commitment to the students, predominately African-American and Latino teens, is real, without pretense or condescension. Rather than relying on canned curricula and traditional methodologies such as recounting battles and memorizing dates, he tries to inspire his students with the ideology of Karl Marx, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the film footage of Mario Savio, student leader of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.
However, Dan's idealism and energy begin to wane, and he easily justifies anesthetizing himself in order to escape his growing recognition that he will likely make little or no difference in the world. As his drug use intensifies, Dan's connections with friends, family, colleagues, and eventually, students completely unravel. But his downward spiral into addiction is intertwined with and counterpointed by a complex and subtle relationship that develops between him and thirteen-year old, Drey (Shareeka Epps) when she discovers her teacher, Mr. Dunne, slumped nearly unconscious in the bathroom stall of the school gym, a crack pipe still in his hand.
The film was based on the short, Gowanus, Brooklyn, which won an award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Half-Nelson was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and Ryan Gosling was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was twenty-five at the time of filming. Shareeka Epps won several acting awards for her acting in the film. The film was shot in twenty-three days, and except for a short sequence of static shots in Dan Dunne's apartment, it was shot entirely with a hand-held camera.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (DVD)