Inner-City Drama Featuring Oscar-Nominated Performance Released on DVD
Dan (Ryan Gosling) is a dedicated teacher at a dilapidated junior high located in a Brooklyn ghetto. One of his students, 13 year-old Drey (Shareeka Epps), is a latch-key kid who is at-risk because of the absence of parental supervision after school.
Normally, Dan and Drey would have nothing to do with each other outside of the classroom, not only because of the age difference, but because he’s white and lives in the suburbs, while she’s black and stuck struggling with her single-mom in the ‘hood. However, Dan is a crack addict, and his student-teacher relationship with Drey is altered irreversibly the day she observes him getting high in the girls’ locker room.
She chooses to keep his secret, and in return he takes a personal interest in her well-being, crossing an ethical line by secretly involving himself in her personal life after 3PM. For instance, he drives her home one day and despite his own addiction, warns her to keep her distance from Frank (Anthony Mackie), a dealer on her block who’d like to get the young girl hooked on narcotics.
Thus unfolds Half Nelson, an unlikely-buddy drama for which Ryan Gosling landed a Best Actor Oscar nomination. While Gosling’s praiseworthy performance is supported by a capable cast, unfortunately, nothing much exciting ever happens in this contemplative mood piece. So, the deliberately-paced, slice-of-life drama’s infuriating flaw is that it’s a tad too understated for its own good.
A teenager befriends her teacher but without any dire consequences, unlike your trademark ghetto fabulous adventures marked by mayhem. By the time the closing credits roll on this headscratcher, don’t be surprised to be asking yourself, “Is that it?”
A half-hearted study in black and white which is well-acted but based on a script which never dares to take enough risks.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for sex, expletives, and drug use.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Outtakes, deleted and extended scenes, director’s commentary, plus a music video by Rhymefest.