A teacher takes pride in moulding young minds while a serious crack habit turns his own to mush in Half Nelson. Ryan Gosling earned an Oscar nomination for the role, demonstrating a remarkable ability to flit between comedy and tragedy with just a lift (or a droop) of an eyebrow. Young newcomer Shareeka Epps is also striking as the pupil who opens her teacher's eyes to the hard facts. It's a simple story with few flourishes, but the memory lingers.
"Second chances are rare," Mr Dunne tells his class, even though he rules out rehabilitation for his drug dependency. For a while the decision seems justified as day after cocaine-fuelled night he turns up in class alert and ready to tackle anything the kids can throw at him. Then, one of his quieter pupils Drey finds him high in a toilet stall. His position becomes untenable and even more so when he tries to protect her from the influence of a local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie).
"RAW AND UNSENTIMENTAL"
Writer/director Ryan Fleck shoots the action in a way that's raw and unsentimental yet brimming with humanity. He examines the everyday exploits of a functioning addict and an apprentice drug dealer with so much absorbing detail that contrived shoot-outs and OD panic scenes aren't necessary to create drama. Instead of preaching, Fleck uses humour to point out hypocrisy. Funny moments spring naturally, like a scene where Drey backchats Mr Dunne and, rather than take the high road, he responds in kind. It takes a while to settle into the rhythm (feeling episodic at first), but Half Nelson soon takes hold with a vice-like grip.
Half Nelson is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th April 2007.