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Monday, 26 February 2007

Filmed jerkily and using desaturated, low contrast stock, 'Half Nelson' is slightly abrasive to watch, at least at first. It takes a while to adjust to the almost constant movement of the camera and the slight shudder as it pans across a classroom. Yet within minutes, the actions of the characters on screen are so intriguing, so contradictory and yet believable, that you all but forget you are watching a film. And with that, the handheld immediacy of the cinematography suddenly stops being distracting and just brings you incredibly close to the story and its actors, in a way that a smoothly shot piece of Hollywood eye-candy never could.
I came out of the cinema with that odd, slightly disturbing sense that the reality of the film was temporarily more real than the reality I was exiting into; the last time I felt like that was after Rian Johnson's neo-noir 'Brick' last year with the iconic Joseph Gordon-Levitt ( The other film that 'Half Nelson' bears comparison to is 'Requiem for a Dream'; both deal with the terrifying costs of drug addiction, but while 'Requiem' was so tragic as to become almost unwatchable in parts, 'Half Nelson' matches heartbreaking sadness with a gentle but insistent beat of redemption.
The casting is inspired; Ryan Gosling, Oscar-nominated for his performance as an unconventional, deeply troubled history teacher, is at once lovable, sexy and deeply pathetic. The only thing that took my eyes off him was a truly incredible performance by Shareeka Epps, in her feature film debut. Aged 17, the stillness of her face is broken only by the watchfulness of her world-weary eyes.
I don't want to talk too much about the plot, except to say that although it sounds like the ultimate cliched, overdone storyline - white middle-class well-intentioned teacher makes personal sacrifices to teach in a school of deprived kids and manages to inspire them - 'Half Nelson' actually transcends any kind of genre; it stands alone as a film more about politics and the burden of thoughtfulness than it is about education. There's no sentimentality here, just a raw kind of honesty and a great deal of intelligence. The editing is bold and imaginative, with great use of ellipsis, especially at the start; I suspect this might have been necessitated by an overlong running time; as it is the film could still benefit from being a wee bit shorter, but this is a minor caveat. All in all, unmissable, and a triumph for rising indie filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, Columbia and NYU graduates who are not only hugely talented and have made a fantastic film, but are also going out!?? I'm putting my jealousy aside. Good job guys.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ur movie is so good i loved it,
best movie i've seen in a while,
the best part was the main actor ryan gosling he's so hot!!!xx