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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Indie Pick O' The Day: Half Nelson

Directed By: Ryan Fleck
Half Nelson - A wrestling hold in which one arm is passed under the opponent's arm from behind to the back of the neck.
The protagonist in this story has an addiction that has a great hold over his life...

This film tells the story of Dan Dunne, an inner city high school teacher with a secret. He is living an unfulfilled life and the only thing that keeps him going is his love for teaching and his adoration for his students. Drey, his 15 year old student is struggling with living in the inner city and the bad elements that surround her. Her brother is in prison for drug dealing, and his mentor, a drug dealer named Frank takes Drey under his wing. One day after school Drey catches her teacher Mr. Dunne in the bathroom smoking crack. His dirty secret is revealed. Drey soon learns her mentor Frank is already familiar with Dunne, for he is a loyal client of his. The two begin to form a friendship that is a mutual understanding of each of their own hardships.

The performances in this film are mesmerizing. I’ve actually been quite a fan of Ryan Gosling after seeing The Believer. His is a phenomenal actor and most certainly underrated. It was a surprise, yet a relief when he received a nomination for an Oscar for his performance. Shareeka Epps has an equally impressive performance as Drey. This actress (with no prior acting experience) was hand picked by the director and his girlfriend to star in this film. Her performance was so amazing that she won the 2007 Independent Spirit Award.
The on-screen chemistry between these two actors is nothing like I’ve ever seen before on film. It’s amazing how two people from complete opposite worlds, can relate to one another so deeply.

The only thing about this film that I criticize are the shots. The cinematography with regard to lighting was flawless, however the shot selection was ambiguous. There were many shots that were framed off-center (which normally I think is aesthetically pleasing) but it was so off-center at times that it was hard to understand what was happening in the scene. For example, there is a scene that a kid in his class has a chronic tendency to cheat and was looking at his classmates test answers. Dunne (Gosling) goes over to the student and slams a paper onto his desk. Initially I did not understand what was placed on his desk, however after watching the director’s commentary, Fleck mentions that he took off the test from the girl’s desk and gave it directly to the cheating student to copy off of. Without the commentary, no one would understand how this scene would have worked.

Aside from shot selection, the film is superb and it is a must see. If you ever want to see what a crack addiction should look like on film, then rent Half Nelson. It’s one of the most stunning performances of this year.

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