Ryan Gosling is without question the best working actor under thirty, and I’d even say one of the top five living actors of any age). I would of course point to his performance in Half Nelson as a thoughtful but drug-addicted, inner city junior high history teacher (quite the mouthful) as back-up for that statement. The contrast between his passionate lectures which emphasize understanding the social forces behind major historical events (why they happened, rather than the who/what/where/when) and his drug abuse is heartbreaking. He is ultimately a good person with big ideas who wants to make the world a better place. His drug habit stemmed from his disaffection with the world, created by the realization that he’s just a small fish in a big pond and that he’ll ultimately never influence much of anything.
Much of the film focuses on his relationship with Drey, one of his female students who has found out about his dependency. She is also jaded, having grown up in a broken home in one of the more violent areas of Brooklyn. Both characters are extremely real, due to amazing acting and a script that doesn’t indulge the typical Dangerous Minds-esque clichés that most ‘amazing teacher inspiring students in the ghetto’ films fall back on.
However, I will say that it’s scripted and shot in a wistful, introspective style which reminded me a bit of Lost in Translation (my favorite movie ever, in case you’ve forgotten!), so if you didn’t enjoy that film, you might not appreciate this either. You also need to be willing to accept that you’re not going to completely love the protagonist – he has a lot of human shading, shall we say.
Finally, if you’re not convinced yet … It also has one of the best jokes I’ve heard in years!
Girl: Knock Knock
RG: Who’s there?
Girl: Interrupting cow
RG: Interrupting co----
Okay maybe my sense of humor isn’t quite as good as my taste in movies. Anywho.