half nelson

i've been meaning to write about half nelson for a while now ever since i saw it when it originally came out. the movie is basically about an inner-city junior high school teacher (ryan gosling) who develops an unlikely friendship with a female student. the catch is he's a drug addict and she catches him one day in the girl's bathroom in the afterglow of taking drugs. it's an impressive scene with a lot of weight. there's not much dialogue during the scene, and what little there is comes out disjointed due to his drugged out state, but it only just adds to the power of the scene.

what comes about is a relationship where the student doesn't judge the teacher right away, and it is this shared secret that helps the two of them grow close. the writing, despite a lot of it being ad libbed, is quite good. the movie moves at a much slower pace than most movies, and it doesn't have the dramatic payoff that a lot of movies tend to gear towards, which kind of threw me off, but it was a nice change of pace. it was also nice to see that the typical over-the-top situations that are usually written into these kinds of drug stories are avoided. for example, there is no cliched melodramatic drug scene where gosling's character loses it. and when gosling goes to confront the man who is turning his student onto a life of crime, you'd expect a fight or an argument at least, but instead, he ends up getting invited into the home for a drink.

it is also pleasant to see a character at fault. he is a good teacher who participates with his students in their extra-curricular activities and he teaches them to think beyond the confines of the school system. it's not as melodramatic or as cartoony as robin williams' character in dead poet's society, which is a good thing. in fact, everything about this movie shows a restrained nature, mirroring gosling's character. the title, half nelson, refers to a wrestling move which basically involves a person being caught in a submission hold that is difficult to get out of.

playing along with the restrained, sort of quagmire nature of the film is the underlying notions of liberalism and leftist political thought that seems to be stifled under george w. bush's america. the movie never comes out and says this directly, but it's crafty enough to leave enough subtle hints. it's this whole understated nature of the film that made me feel sort of underwhelmed when i initially saw it. but the more i think about it, the better the film gets in my mind.

here is the
ebert and roeper review (kevin smith is the guest reviewer. it's a good movie, and gosling is amazing in it and should get all sorts of accolades, but the film is not as amazing as smith thinks it is. he is right though when he talks about how powerful independant cinema can be.)
here is the trailer: