Volume 76, Number 14 | August 23 - 29, 2006


Koch on film  

“Half Nelson” (-)
I saw this movie at the Angelika Theater in Greenwich Village where I have lived since 1956. After the movie the writers, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, addressed the audience. They were honest, intelligent, funny and very impressive. Although I thoroughly enjoyed their discussion, I can’t say the same for their film.

Dan (Ryan Gosling), who teaches history at a junior high school in Brooklyn, treats his students with respect and intellectual vigor. Not having read the curriculum, however, he speaks only in generalities. Dan establishes a friendship with a 13-year-old student, Drey (Shareeka Epps), who is wise beyond her years. Their relationship does not appear to be sexual, but some situations raise that possibility for the future. Dan’s behavior throughout the film is based on his severe cocaine addiction. 

The acting of everyone is superb. The sensitive story had enormous potential, but it just didn’t hold together for me. One example being that when Dan tells a drug dealer to stay away from Drey and the school, he is invited in for refreshments rather than being beaten up by the dealer. 

You might want to see this film and judge for yourself. When I saw it, the audience applauded when it ended. New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis seemed to love it, writing:  “Half Nelson” is that rarest of marvels — an American fiction film that wears its political heart on its sleeve.”

HS said: “I enjoyed the movie as a work of art, good cinematography and fine acting, Brooklyn scenery and eager teenagers. The plot was absurd, no obviously stoned teacher could last that long in any school. The worst part was that the movie was punctuated by a half-dozen irrelevant interruptions by film clips of Mario Savio, Henry Kissinger on Chile, and Attica (the prison). The bright young filmmakers know a lot about making movies, but their politics are incredibly naïve and knee-jerk radical. They were rewarded for their ideology at Sundance. Nonetheless, the film was not poisoned by the commercials, and it told an appealing if totally improbable story.

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