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Half Nelson is a 2006 Americanmarker film that premiered in competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and was released theatrically on August 11, 2006. It is written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, stars Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie and is directed by Ryan Fleck. The film was scored by Juno-Award-winning Canadian band Broken Social Scene. Gosling received an Academy Award nomination for lead actor for his role in the film.

The story concerns an inner-city junior high school teacher who forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers that he has a drug habit. The film is based on a 19-minute film made by Boden and Fleck in 2004, titled Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Half Nelson was screened at the Philadelphia Film Festival on April 1, 2006. Director Ryan Fleck and actress Shareeka Epps attended the screening and answered questions from the audience.

Plot outline

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young urban high school teacher whose ideals wither and die in the face of reality. Day after day in his shabby Brooklynmarker classroom, he finds the energy to inspire his 13 and 14-year-olds to examine everything from civil rights to the civil war with a new enthusiasm. Rejecting the standard curriculum in favor of an edgier approach, Dan teaches his students how change works—on both a historical and personal scale—and how to think for themselves.

Though Dan is smart, dynamic and in control of the classroom, he spends his time outside school on the edge of consciousness. Early in the film we see Dan smoking crack in a school locker room after he coaches the school's girls basketball team. While there, one of his players, Drey (Shareeka Epps) catches him getting high. As the plot moves forward, we learn little about how and why Dan got involved with drugs. We find that a former girlfriend has successfully gone through drug rehab, and that the Dunne family has fissures of its own. But Fleck primarily sets moods throughout the film, leaving large ellipses for the viewer to fill in, rather than directly illuminate Dan's story.

Drey's troubles are more plainly spelled out. Her parents are not together, and her father is irresponsible and seemingly uninvolved in her life. Drey's brother, Mike, is in prison for selling drugs for a neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie). And Drey's mother is constantly working as an EMT to keep the family together. Drey's lack of proper adult supervision makes her a target for Frank's operation.

The tension in the film comes from Drey's attempts to save Dan from the consequences of his drug habit, and Dan's efforts to keep Drey from following in her brother Mike's footsteps. These two people are better able to save each other than to save themselves.


The film was greeted with high critical acclaim, found its way on many top ten films of 2006 lists and even calculated an overall average of 85 out of 100 on Metacritic.

On the television show Ebert & Roeper that aired during the weekend of August 13, 2006, Richard Roeper and guest critic Kevin Smith gave Half Nelson a "two big thumbs up" rating. Smith went so far as to say that it was probably one of the ten best films he had seen in the last decade. Jim Emerson, editor of Roger gave the movie four stars out of four.

Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum awarded the film with an A and stated in her review for the film, "Half Nelson offers an opportunity to marvel, once again, at the dazzling talent of Ryan Gosling for playing young men as believable as they are psychologically trip-wired."

LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas wrote, "At a time when most American movies, studio made or "independent," seem ever more divorced from anything approximating actual life experience, Half Nelson is so sobering and searingly truthful that watching it feels like being tossed from a calm beach into a raging current."

Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan gave the film an enthusiastic response stating in his review, "What is different about Half Nelson is the execution, the kind of subtlety in writing, directing and acting (by costars Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie as well as Gosling) you seldom see."

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote that "a dedicated, charismatic, crack-addicted history teacher is the most believable protagonist in an American movie this year."

The Monthly film critic Luke Davies described the film as "engaging and elegant, unpredictable and non-didactic, a film which comfortably sits with its own ambiguities and even allows them to go largely unresolved," commending the film's fresh-take on the occasionally exhausted "teacher with a heart of gold" story, achieved by "one of the [film's] quiet strengths ... that it doesn't try to resolve Dunne's journey of devouring". Davies concluded that the film's optimistic and pessimistic convergence deemed the film "transparent and sparkling and diamond-hard, a small gem."

Awards and nominations

Many of the nominations were for Ryan Gosling, including the Oscar, for his performance as Dan Dunne.


The soundtrack was released in the USA on August 8, 2006. The Canadian band Broken Social Scene, featured prominently throughout the film, is also included on the soundtrack.

DVD releases

Half Nelson was released on DVD on February 13, 2007 courtesy of ThinkFilm and Sony Pictures. Bonus features include outtakes, deleted scenes, filmmaker commentary, and a music video by Rhymefest.


  1. Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004)
  2. Ebert & Roeper, Reviews for the Weekend of August 12 - 13, 2006
  3. :: :: Reviews :: Half Nelson (xhtml)
  4. Half Nelson | Movie Review | Entertainment Weekly
  5. LA Weekly - Film+TV - Opposites Attract - Scott Foundas - The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles
  6. 'Half Nelson' - MOVIE REVIEW - Los Angeles Times -
  7. Chicago Reader: Movie Reviews
  8. 'Headlock: Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson"'

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