Great Understated Indie Film - Half Nelson Movie Review
True independent films as well as really
good indie wannabees share the wonderful knack of developing characters
that blur the lines between good and bad. In a world of blockbuster
films where the lines between villain and hero are so defined, good independent
movies often keep such definitions in the gray area, often without true
villains or hero's themselves. Movies that are no-so-mainstream,
gravitate toward actually using the good old fashioned protagonist and
antagonist characters, without putting either completely on a pedestal
or in the gutter.
The movie Half Nelson (2006) blurs those lines beautifully. I watched it recently on Netflix DVD. The film is about a school teacher and his unexpected friendship with one of the middle school students he teaches. The school teacher (Ryan Gosling) is a crack addict. His nights are filled with drug abuse, women and alcohol, yet he is a very effective, outgoing teacher who has the respect of his students.
The student (Shareeka Epps) has a life that is slowly gravitating toward a career of dealing drugs, yet she is a good kid and shows respect in the glass.
They both develop a relationship that
helps keep each other from spiraling into the abyss.
The movie is low budget but doesn't feel that way. The entire film is shot in the inner city but is without the usual ghetto cliches. There are no strained white/black relations. No muggings or shootings. People work and go about their lives. The drug dealer in the movie, who completes a sort of maligned friendship-triangle, is a bad guy that really isn't all that bad (as far as typical movie drug dealers go). All this helps keep the film fresh and realistic feeling.
Half Nelson is not a films of blockbuster effects, intense action or melodrama. This film is about good writing and good acting. That is all.
This is not a big name film. Besides Gosling, the actors might be recognizable to some, but not many the typical movie goes could name. The acting is flawless. Their performances, in a wonderfully restrained way, reveal the genuine humanity as well as the deep flaws within each of the characters.
I only found one fault in the film. To my surprise, I did feel the film was 10 or 15 minutes too long, even though the film is only 106 minutes long. Maybe I was just in a strange mood that evening. Otherwise, I loved it.
Watch Half Nelson sometime if you get a chance.
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