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Cinephile Report: Half Nelson

Hello blogTO readers, Matt Thomas here as your new source for all things cinematic here on the blog. As your resident film writer you must know my scope is from cult to art and after catching Snakes on A Plane I hopped over to see Half Nelson in order to provide you with a fancy new review of the best art flick out this week.

I am certainly not a fan of the "white teacher saves inner city kid" Dangerous Minds style film, in fact I hate their pandering viewpoint and hollow liberalism. Half Nelson may be stuck in that genre by some but it injects it with a realistic uneasy energy putting it miles ahead of any of it's predecessor.

The film centers on Dan Dunne (Ontario native Ryan Gosling), an irresponsible drug addict school teacher and Drey (Shareeka Epps), a young girl he teaches and coaches who form an odd bond after Drey catches Dan in the lockeroom gettting high on crack cocaine. The film's strongest scenes for me come from the almost painfully unappropriate and embarassingly rock bottom momments of Dan's addiction that Drey is exposed to and the tension it creates.

Her reactions are rooted in her own issues around having a brother in prision for dealing and being on the other side of addiction now helping her brother's old friend with drug drop-offs . Dan struggles to do his best to help shield her but stumbles at every point with the contradictions of his situation, allowing his mistakes to do the talking when all else fails.

The performances by Gosling and Epps are certainly among the best this year and make it clear why Half Nelson was a favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Shot expertely in a raw stripped down style that brought to my mind modern jems like Thirteen and Girlfight and scored with early Broken Social Scene tracks, Half Nelson will be on "Best Of" lists this year and for good reason.


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