The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Half Nelson

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Half Nelson”
Rated R

Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson” played like a calmer, quarter-sized 2006 predecessor to TV’s “Breaking Bad” — a drama using drug addiction and drug trade as gateways into a larger, messier tale of crumbling composure, confidence and values.

Hardly the stuff of inspirational-teacher drama, but the unruly, somewhat-unresolved “Half Nelson” can’t be so easily simplified into that genre.

Ryan Gosling (in an Oscar-nominated turn) is Dan Dunne, a lanky inner-city teacher and basketball coach who’s against the establishment while a part of it — seeing history as a triumph of dialectics, opposing forces that enact change over time. But Dan’s recreational drug use has ballooned into an addiction to crack, a drug that student Drey (Shareeka Epps) catches him smoking.

That uneasy clash of authority and empathy sustains “Half Nelson” through its characters’ crises of conscious, which, like “Bad,” refuse an easy moral escape hatch.

Dan argues one thing doesn’t make a man — bolstered by his contradictory impulses to do good for others and willfully self-destruct. And although dealer Frank’s (Anthony Mackie) drug trade imprisoned her brother, Drey shares a gentle relationship with him that might be a lure or maybe just a mix of loyalty and guilt.

Gosling and Epps elegantly tiptoe around Fleck and co-writer Anna Boden’s elephant in the room: Dan’s most compelling instruction to not let Drey enter the trade is his own destruction.

Fleck and Boden turn that point of panic into something resembling penance — a poignant challenge of both characters’ convictions that realistically has no definite right answer.

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5 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Half Nelson”

  1. […] Gladiator Gomorrah Gone, Baby, Gone Good Night, and Good Luck The Good Shepherd Hairspray (2007) Half Nelson The Hangover Happy Feet Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire […]

  2. […] talented filmmakers and this just seemed like too mainstream of material. Their first two films, “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” were rooted in this uncomfortable realism that really allowed characters […]

  3. […] are a duo of writer/directors who are known for their stark realism and defying clichés. With Half Nelson, all of the inspirational teacher conventions were thrown out of the window and Sugar was not the […]

  4. […] fans of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson” knew 2009’s “Sugar” wouldn’t concern one pitcher’s easy ascension to the major leagues, […]

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nick Rogers, The Film Yap. The Film Yap said: The only constant is change. #bestfilmsofthedecade #heroesofthezeroes […]