Half Nelson Ryan Fleck

There’s no shortage of films where a teacher makes a difference with inner-city youth, but Half Nelson takes a breathtaking paradigm u-turn away from the conventions of urban school-based dramas. Underutilised London, ON native Ryan Gosling stars as the crack-addicted Dan Dunne, a high school history teacher and girls’ basketball coach with a socio-political agenda and a fondness for dialectics. One night after basketball practice, he freebases in the locker room and is eventually found by Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of his students. From there a bond is formed between the two, one constantly tested by their individual troubles. Dan’s habit expands into other narcotics and he carelessly manages his personal and professional life. Meanwhile, Drey struggles to find stability at home, with her mother working an overnight security job and Frank (Anthony Mackie), a "family friend”/drug dealer, offering his services as a father figure (aka drug-running boss). The relationship between Dan and Drey is intense, vague and slightly uncomfortable, at times. However, it’s beautifully measured in the final shot, which ends the film with no real closure for Dan. Nonetheless, it’s a breath of fresh air that encapsulates the beautiful subtlety that guides this film. Gosling’s Oscar-nominated dramatic flair makes him a more than worthy shoo-in for the prize and will hopefully upgrade his profile so he doesn’t feel like such a secret anymore. The Cinéma Vérité style Fleck adopts imposes subtleties that make the unguarded dialogue and authentic Brooklyn setting feel almost like the work of a documentarian. Additionally, the score provided by Broken Social Scene builds a dream-like setting that matches the constant sway of Dan’s drug-addled reality. The commentary by Fleck and co-writer/producer Anna Boden is delicate but effective, much like the film itself. However, if you’re looking for answers to what the ambiguous title means, well, Boden faintly touches upon its significance, simply passing it off as a metaphor. Shucks. Plus: deleted scenes, outtakes. (Sony)