Monday, October 02, 2006

Half Nelson

Been a while since I've posted about a film..mostly because I haven't seen a good one in some time. But Fall is here and the crop of quality options is growing thicker each and every week.

This past weekend I saw Half Nelson directed by Ryan Fleck. The film first drew critical attention way back in January at Sundance, scoring a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Properly released a few weeks ago, this unassuming but powerful drama stars Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, a young, idealistic history teacher by day, a disillusioned coke-addict by night. One day after school, the teach is caught smoking a crack pipe in the school bathroom by one of his 13-year old students, Drey, played by the talented Shareeka Epps. After their mutually startling encounter, the two eventually develop a tentative father-daughter relationship. Their new bond is contrasted to Drey's interaction with her other father figure, Frank (played by Anthony Mackie), a polite and considerate drug dealer from the neighborhood. Although on the surface, Frank is easily the nicest and most watchful eye in Drey's life, he also has ulterior motives to recruit Drey into some of his unsavory errands.

The plot sounds like it could fall in all sorts of traps, most obviously the "white teacher/coach who shows the black kids how to find their inspiration within themselves." This ploy has been obnoxiously portrayed in countless films over the years. But writer/director Ryan Fleck and and co-writer Anna Boden take that seemingly insulting and worn-out premise and turn it on its head. Better yet, the film is politically and morally resonant, with insightful commentary on ideals and one's ability (or lack thereof) to change the world we live in.

But enough with the synopsis. This is a fantastic film, maybe the best I've seen this year. There are several arresting and emotional scenes in this film of the sort I long to see but rarely do. I should also note that the film strongly features Broken Social Scene music throughout. But I find it very surprising (and disappointing) that Half Nelson has not garnered more attention. I can't remember seeing a single ad upon its release and only through my incessant reading of online critics and blogs did I take notice. The reviews were outstanding across the board and Ryan Gosling (post-Notebook fame) is now an established name. So what's the deal here? Ryan Gosling kills in this role, proving that he is this generation's Sean Penn. The Oscar prognosticator's are charging full-steam with award-season predictions but Half Nelson is hardly registering. True, I haven't seen half as many films as most this year, but I find it hard to believe that Gosling's performance and Half Nelson wouldn't be up there in the top tier.

Subjectivity's a bitch. So go check out this great film...I promise you will not be disappointed.

This is just the beginning...
In case you're wondering, here are a few more films I'm looking forward to seeing over the next few months:
The Departed, Little Children, The Fountain, Fast Food Nation, Flags of Our Fathers, Borat, Babel, Volver, The Good German, Children of Men, The Good Shepherd and Dreamgirls. Check out trailers for most of these films on my release calendar link over on the sidebar.

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