Monday, August 14, 2006
Let Us Now Praise: Ryan Gosling in ‘Half Nelson’
Often, my favorite moments at film festivals come at the end when a random film wows me. Earlier this year, just before the 2006 Sundance Film Festival wrapped, I caught “Half Nelson,” the gripping high school drama by director/co-writer Ryan Fleck and his longstanding creative partner, co-writer Anna Boden. It’s a film I think about often; can’t wait to watch again and imagine it headlining many top ten lists this year.
In a rich and complex lead performance, Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, an idealistic junior high history teacher at a rough inner-city neighborhood. Dunne will do anything to help his students, especially a bright young woman named Drey (Shareeka Epps, pitched above with Gosling), but he first has to help himself. Dunne has his own battle with drug addiction to face and it’s unclear whether he has the strength to make the right choices.
Like another independent spirit, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gosling also jogs between studio films and smaller fare and he’s always good. But “Half Nelson” is a standout performance, the kind that leaves one dazed and bedazzled by the film’s end.
With Fleck and Bowden, who based “Half Nelson” on their 2004 short film “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” Gosling has found kindred spirits. They’ll continue to do great work separately, there’s no doubt about that. Imagine what they’ll accomplish if they team up again.
“Half Nelson” made its premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. THINK Films will release “Half Nelson” in major U.S. cities throughout August 2006.