August 10, 2006

Half Nelson.

Half Nelson "Half Nelson is that rarest of marvels - an American fiction film that wears its political heart on its sleeve," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[W]hat makes Half Nelson both an unusual and an exceptional American film, particularly at a time when even films about Sept 11 are professed to have no politics, is its insistence on political consciousness as a moral imperative."

"Ryan Gosling, 25, is the best actor of his generation," declares Robert Cashill. "Gosling has made the most of good parts in questionable films; what he needs is for one of them to reach his level of energy and discipline. Half Nelson isn't it."

"The audacity of making an inner-city drama in which the white-male authority figure is the crackhead finds its equal in Gosling's already legendary performance, a high-wire act that's gutsiest for its unconscionable charm," writes Rob Nelson in the Voice. Ultimately, the film "asks whether genuine uncertainty - the vague sense that modern life is too complicated to address or even understand - is going to cut it as the world burns."

Updated through 8/14.

"It's not a stretch to read it as a comment on the sorry state of the American left," proposes Dennis Lim in the NYT, and director Ryan Fleck agrees.

David Edelstein in New York: "Downbeat as it is, Half Nelson is a genuinely inspirational film - a terrifically compelling character study and a tricky exploration of the links (and busted links) between the personal and the political."

The Reeler hosted a screening the other night, "following which filmmakers and local heroes Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden joined the film's producers Jamie Patricof and Alex Orlovsky for an audience Q&A. Between the spirited debate on dialectics, hope vs hopelessness and teacher/student relations, we actually did get some nuts and bolts insights from the Half Nelson gang."

More from Fleck at indieWIRE, where Michael Koresky leads Reverse Shot's round: "This film is not without its limitations... Yet if there are quite a few pulled punches in Half Nelson, the film remains smartly dialectical and unencumbered by the rigid formalities of the genre it's attempting to bust wide open."

For the New York Press's Armond White, "Half Nelson represents the latest, post-wigger version of Norman Mailer's White Negro formulation in which hipsters project their anxieties and lusts upon figures of black deprivation."

"Just when the melodrama seems ready to come to a boil, Fleck and Boden pull back the reins and resist the expected payoffs," writes Scott Tobias for the AV Club. "[T]hey've ended with a denouement that's funny, touching, and in every way earned."

More from Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

Earlier: Matthew Ross's interview with Fleck for Filmmaker.

Updates, 8/11: Half Nelson "may be remembered as the movie that finally made Ryan Gosling the movie star he deserves to be," writes Dana Stevens in Slate, and she proceeds to sing his praises. As for the film, it "seems fully poised to become a movie we've seen a million times, The Blackboard Jungle with a dash of Stand and Deliver, or Dead Poets Society in the ghetto. But it keeps surprising us, mainly by being consistently smarter and sadder than inspirational-teacher movies usually let themselves be."

NPR's Michele Norris talks with Fleck.

Updates, 8/12: Marcy Dermansky calls Half Nelson "a startling and unexpectedly moving surprise," Cinematical's Kim Voynar takes note of Kevin Smith's rave and Anthony Kaufman wonders how the film will stand up to competition from Little Miss Sunshine.

Updates, 8/14: David Poland: "Beautifully made... beautifully acted... and in spite of many, many people wanting to see it otherwise, false to its very core."

"I must profess a slight bewilderment at the widespread critical praise Half Nelson is currently enjoying," writes Travis Mackenzie Hoover for Reverse Shot, calling it "just a bit of low-stakes liberal hand-wringing."

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Posted by dwhudson at August 10, 2006 3:39 PM


i wrote about this film when it was at iffboston a few months ago--i had a lukewarm reaction to it because it felt very much like a couple of film students' attempt to deconstruct one of the last few genres that has yet to be deconstructed--the inspirational teacher/classroom drama. like they went searching for a genere to give the 'unforgiven' treatment to. it felt too dreconstruction-by-numbers to me. and ryan gosling was amazingly charismatic at first but then it began to grate and he seemed hammy. perhaps that's because he was in fact going beyond the role, he was too big for it.

Posted by: cynthia at August 10, 2006 4:11 PM

Love the phrase "deconstruction by numbers," Cynthia. Wonder what a gift set stuffed in a stocking this holiday season would look like.

More seriously, it's a common symptom - and as for Gosling, you seem to be agreeing to some extent with Robert Cashill.

Posted by: David Hudson at August 11, 2006 3:17 AM