Friday, June 01, 2007

Half Nelson

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006) [7]

A lot has been made of Ryan Gosling's performance here, and while very good, the film for me really hinges on the subdued yet nuanced performance of Shareeka Epps as the student struggling to find a kind of father figure in her teacher. (Side note: Epps happens to go reside here in Binghamton, and sadly, the film was never shown in theatrical release here, nor did any media pick up the story until she started to receive awards. Just goes to show how culturally inept a place Binghamton still is in regards to film.) Anyway, the film really succeeds in that it offers no real redeeming ending. A film of this nature, heavy-handed at times in its liberalism, all too easy could have made an uplifting ending to make everyone feel good that these characters were able to rise above their struggles. But it goes much beyond that. The film talks a lot about dialectics and the struggle for change, and it leaves us with these characters still struggling. It's refreshing to see this film portray the white teacher in a inner-city neighborhood not as a savior but as someone going through as many problems as the students around him. Gosling as Dan Dunne is someone who while talks of change is someone who is caught in his own struggle. He has no willpower to bring about change. This brings out a theme that Dunne's kind of liberalism hasn't really done much to help or empower the situation of the inner-city. It would have been all too easy for him to clean up his act and help Drey in her situation, but life in these situations is rarely that clean-cut. Epps, in her performance, goes much farther in her character, raising it out of a simple caricature, as a young girl wrestling with her place and where her future lies. Half Nelson doesn't go for simple answers or resolutions. It succeeds in that it doesn't fall into the cheap manipulation that films with a similar message all too often do.

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