Half Nelson Ryan Fleck

You want to give Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden points for trying. As the respective writer-director and co-writer of Half Nelson, they’re clearly attempting to break away from the pack, combining Cassavetes’ immediacy to a cinema verite camera style. But though their camera jitters and their compositions are raw, there’s no denying a familiarity to their story, their characters and finally, to the very techniques with which they try to distinguish themselves.

Ryan Gosling stars as Dan, a middle-school teacher with a sullen demeanour and a crack habit, who between (bad) explanations of dialectics likes to smoke up in the bathroom. This is where student Drey (Shareeka Epps) finds him and they form an uneasy bond, in between encounters with drug dealer Frank (Anthony Mackie), who tries to suck Drey into the dealing life. Will Dan lead Drey out only to succumb himself?

Fleck and Boden’s stab at a melancholy remembrance of stale dreams is intensified by Dan’s attempt to fit his Hegelian square peg into the system’s round hole, but the film’s fight-the-fuddy-duddies and unlikely adult/child friendship bits are amongst the oldest saws in the Amer-indie tool chest. After a while, you start resenting the filmmakers for trying to fob off the standard operating bullshit as the latest style from Paris — even their documentary look is a diversionary tactic that serves no intellectual function other than to seem off-Hollywood.

And as it seizes on a racially-charged situation, it’s doubly tragic to watch it peter out into the same movie colony patronisation that marks most American filmic renderings of the problem. Half Nelson does keep you watching just in case something happens, but tragically, nothing does. (Th!nk)