Home | Sisters | Associates | Friars | Laity | Nuns | Link to Groups | World OP| DLC

Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

Half Nelson

A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)

Half Nelson is an independent film which has been receiving a lot of critical acclaim this summer. It is the story of Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), a young middle school history teacher in Brooklyn. Dan has the makings of a great teacher: he clearly loves teaching, and takes a personal interest in his students. He is involved not only in the classroom, but as coach of the girls’ basketball team. The early classroom scenes have a great feel to them, as Dan engages the students in a discussion on societal change. Dan espouses a dialectical theory of history: change occurs when two opposing forces clash. He uses the Civil Rights Movement as an example of the dialectical theory. The film’s title, a wrestling hold, is also a reference to his dialectical theory.

From the first scene, the audience knows that this likeable, charismatic teacher is dealing with a major problem: He is addicted to crack cocaine. As Half Nelson progresses, the audience watches in sadness and frustration as Dan falls more and more under the spell of crack. His relationships suffer as he pushes others away. More and more he sits stoned in his classroom, looking like he had been hit by a truck. Yet, there is still a flicker of life in him, and his eyes sparkle with the joy of seeing his students learn. Dan’s students become his only connection with the outside world. But even that connection is fading fast.

At the heart of Half Nelson is Dan’s relationship with one of his students, Drey (wonderfully played by the young Shareeka Epps). Drey is a girl who has had to grow up fast. Her mother works as an EMT, and is seldom home. Drey’s brother is in prison. Drey rarely smiles, and seems to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. As with the current Little Miss Sunshine, a young girl becomes the film’s wisdom figure. After a basketball game, Drey finds Dan stoned in the rest room. Dan and Drey become soul-mates of a sort, understanding both the loneliness and the promise in each another. (At this point I feel compelled to note that, while the relationship between teacher and young student is inappropriate, it is not sexual).

As is evident, Half Nelson is a difficult film to watch. Watching the smart, talented, likeable Dan throw his life away is tough indeed. Ryan Gosling (best know for his performance in a very different film, the 2004 romantic drama The Notebook), has been receiving rave reviews for his performance. He has no grandstanding scenes, just a slow progression into darkness. Yet even at his lowest, Gosling brings out the humanity in a subtle look in his eye.

The end of the film leaves us wondering what will become of Dan and Drey. The screenplay by Ryan Fleck (who also directed) and Anna Boden does not serve up a happy Hollywood ending. Yet the final scene between Dan and Drey provides a tiny glimmer of hope. If Dan is able to survive, it will be because of the strength he finds in his relationship with Drey. She is a mediator of God’s grace in Dan’s life (as he is in hers.)

Would I recommend Half Nelson? It’s pretty grim stuff, at times slow, definitely not a “feel good” movie. Even though it is well acted by Gosling and Epps, Half Nelson is not a great film. Yet there is a sense of reality in these characters. Sadly, we know that there are a lot of Dan’s in the world, squandering the promise of their lives. There are also a lot of Drey’s as well, fine, tough kids surviving on the mean streets of the big city. Is there any hope for them? I hope the faint light amidst the dark reality of Half Nelson speaks a message of hope to all those Dan’s and Drey’s, as well as the rest of us who care for them.

Tom Condon, OP

...even at his lowest, Gosling brings out the humanity in a subtle look in his eye.

MPAA Rating R - for drug content throughout, language and some sexuality.

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III --

Home | Contact Us | DLC
Dominican Life | USA is sponsored by the Dominican Leadership Conference,
the networking organization for elected leaders in the USA.
Dominican Life | USA © 2002-
2007, All Rights Reserved
Web Editor: Anne Lythgoe, OP

Subscribe to DomLife.org and get a free email update every two weeks.