Gritty reality takes hold in `Half Nelson'

Review A-

September 15, 2006|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

When the antihero of Half Nelson, Dan Dunne, collapses against the wall of a teachers' lounge and says "I can't do this any more," actor Ryan Gosling gives the words such vertiginous, heart-breaking spin that "this" means everything, the way it would in a Henry James novel. It means the school system, his own unconventional teaching and basketball coaching, his cocaine habit, his disastrous love life, Brooklyn, New York and America.

The blessed irony is that Gosling and his spellbinding young co-star, Shareeka Epps, who plays a junior high pupil and basketball player who tries to save him, fill the film with vitality. Half Nelson must be named for the wrestling hold that puts pressure on the back of an opponent's neck. I presume it's another way of saying a junkie like Dunne has a monkey on his back. But the movie is really a portrait of the artist as a junior high history teacher and girls' basketball coach. Follow Half Nelson to the end and it will make you feel whole.

Half Nelson (ThinkFilm) Starring Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps. Directed by Ryan Fleck. Rated R. Time 107 minutes.

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