"Yes, But Where’s the Plot?"
What You Need To Know:
HALF NELSON is one of those intense character studies where nothing much happens until the second half of the movie. Even then, not much happens. The filmmakers neglect to give their movie a plot with a beginning, middle and an end. Nor do they present a clear premise. Their camerawork is also incredibly claustrophobic, which gets in the way. Finally, HALF NELSON contains plenty of strong foul language and a humanist worldview with strong Romantic, Marxist notions of society and history.
(HHH, RoRo, CoCoCo, AbAb, LLL, V, SS, N, AA, DDD, MM) Very strong humanist worldview with some Romantic elements about an idealistic, Neo-Marxist teacher with a cocaine habit who indoctrinates his African-American students with lectures about Marxist dialectics, plus protagonist rages against religious belief in God in one scene; 53 obscenities, including many “f” words, two strong profanities and one light profanity; some very light violence such as contact at a girls basketball game, woman struggles against intoxicated man trying to force himself on her and eventually locks herself in bathroom, woman hits man on lip, and teenage girl threatens another teenager into returning her stolen bike; briefly depicted fornication but obscured and intoxicated man tries to force himself on woman but she locks herself in bathroom; upper male nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; very strong drug references include tobacco use, teacher uses cocaine and crack cocaine, teacher addicted to drugs but doesn’t like rehab, people using drugs in a room, drug sales, and drug dealer entices girl to be a drug runner for him; and, strong miscellaneous immorality such as teacher indoctrinates students with his own personal ideology rather than really teaching them to think for themselves or learn opposing viewpoints, teacher doesn’t seem to care about the girls basketball team he coaches, man makes a racist joke about teaching Ebonics to black students, and teenage girl gets her bike stolen but she finds out who has it and threatens another teenager into giving it back.
HALF NELSON is an actor’s dream job, but it doesn’t offer much of a story to viewers looking for something more from the independent film community. Overlooked at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the movie has gotten raves from film critics. What the critics won’t tell you is that the protagonist in the movie indoctrinates his junior high students with radical Marxist dialectics, which the movie views in a positive light.
HALF NELSON stars Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, a junior high history teacher and coach in Brooklyn, New York, who teaches Marxist dialectics to his black students. One day after a game, one of his students and players, Drey (played by Shakeera Epps), catches Dan in a crack cocaine haze in the locker room. She helps him get on his feet, and he begins driving the girl home after school sometimes. As Dan’s addiction sees him spiraling downward, he eventually tries to save Drey from Frank, the friendly drug dealer who gives Drey and her mother money out of guilt for letting Drey’s older sibling take a drug rap for him.
HALF NELSON is one of those intense character studies where nothing much happens until the second half of the movie. The filmmakers are so determined not to fall into clichés that they neglect to give their movie a plot with a beginning, middle and an end. Nor do they present a clear premise as the friendship between Dan and Drey evolves. Their camerawork is also incredibly claustrophobic, which actually gets in the way of the performances and the drama even as it closes in on them.
Although the cast gives incredibly subtle performances, the performances are a bit too subtle. The emotions they display are often lackluster, except in rare moments when the characters are confronting another character. This may please pseudo-intellectual, leftist film critics, but it does not make for a great cinematic experience.
The worldview of HALF NELSON and the filmmakers is a humanist one, with strong Romantic, Marxist notions of society and history. The protagonist successfully indoctrinates his students with radical Marxist ideology, and the movie views this as a good thing.