Half Nelson (film)

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Half Nelson
A man standing in front of a blackboard, the words "half nelson" written prominantly in white chalk.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ryan Fleck
Produced by
Written by
  • Anna Boden
  • Ryan Fleck
Music by Broken Social Scene
Cinematography Andrij Parekh
Edited by Anna Boden
Distributed by ThinkFilm
Release date
  • January 23, 2006 (2006-01-23) (Sundance)
  • August 11, 2006 (2006-08-11) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $700,000[1]
Box office $4.9 million[1]

Half Nelson is a 2006 American drama film directed by Ryan Fleck, written by Fleck and Anna Boden. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie. It was scored by Juno Award-winning Canadian band Broken Social Scene. Gosling was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

The story concerns an inner city middle-school teacher who forms a friendship with one of his students after she discovers that he has a drug habit. The film is based on a 19-minute film made by Boden and Fleck in 2004, titled Gowanus, Brooklyn.[2] It premiered in competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. It was released theatrically on August 11, 2006.


Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young middle-school history teacher at a Brooklyn school, with a teaching style that rejects the standard curriculum in favor of an approach based upon dialectics (specifically Engels' three laws of dialectics, though this is never referred to by name).

Though he seems to have it all together in the classroom, on his own time he is found frequently snorting and freebasing cocaine. After a basketball game, Dan's ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Tina Holmes) turns up, evoking emotions that he cannot handle. A short while later, one of his students (and a player on the girls' basketball team he coaches), Drey (Shareeka Epps), catches him getting high in the locker room.

Meanwhile, Drey has to deal with a single-mother (Karen Chilton) who is always at work, a brother, Mike (Collins Pennie), who is in prison for selling drugs for neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie) and an absent father. Drey's lack of supervision makes her a target for Frank's operation and he encourages her to become involved in his business.

As Dan and Drey begin to get a better understanding of each other as friends, they both know what the other one should stay away from and what they need, but is struggling to get by themselves. Dan perceives that Frank is a bad influence on Drey and tries to intercede on numerous occasions. And Drey tries to get Dan to open up about his drug habit to no avail as he feels uncomfortable talking with a student about it.

After a tense conversation with Frank about Drey, Dan goes to Isabel's (Monique Gabriela Curnen) house, another teacher at the school, with whom he had one previous date. He forces himself on her, trying to right his apparent disinterest in her on their last date, but after she defends herself and runs off, he feels bad and decides to leave. The following day, he further takes his stress out on Drey, telling her to talk to friends her own age when she finds him, hoping to hang out. Drey, a little upset at this, is pushed further into the company of Frank, and he has her do her first drug deal.

Dan goes to his parents' house for dinner, where his brother, Jeff, and his girlfriend, Cindy, also attend. He says little, and does not enjoy himself much, but a joke of Jeff's that Cindy tells him makes him laugh. The same night, Drey is out with Frank, dealing. In the film's pinnacle scene, Drey arrives at a place to deliver some drugs and walks into a room of stoned drug users. The person revealed to be the buyer is Dan as he walks out of the back room and slumps down at the sight of Drey being the drug runner. There is only a slight shameful nod from him as he holds out the money to hand to her for the drugs. This exchange is the culmination of what each was trying to get the other to stay away from, and is finally brought to its climax by them encountering the other doing just that. The next day, Dan is not at school, and his students are told that he is being replaced by a Mr. Light, without much explanation. This changes something within Drey as she refuses a lift home from Frank, choosing to turn from that path.

She knocks on Dan's door and he answers. He goes into the bathroom, shaves and cleans himself up, before sitting down to drink a glass of water. Drey sits down and joins him. The film ends with Dan telling the same joke he heard from Cindy, but the timing is all wrong. Drey says, "That was horrible", and they both laugh.



Box office performance[edit]

The film was given limited release opening in two theaters, taking in $53,983 its opening weekend.[3] The film grossed $2,697,938 in North America and $1,962,543 internationally for a worldwide gross of $4,660,481.[1] The film's budget was $700,000.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Half Nelson received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 90%, based on 130 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Half Nelson features powerful performances from Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps. It's a wise, unsentimental portrait of lonely people at the crossroads."[4] On Metacritic the film has a score of 85 out of 100, based on reviews from 31 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[5]

On the television show Ebert & Roeper that aired during the weekend of August 13, 2006, Richard Roeper and guest critic Kevin Smith gave Half Nelson a "two big thumbs up" rating. Smith said that it was probably one of the ten best films he had seen in the last decade.[6] Jim Emerson, editor of Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film four-stars-out-of-four and called it a masterpiece.[7]

Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum awarded the film with an "A" and stated in her review for the film, "Half Nelson offers an opportunity to marvel, once again, at the dazzling talent of Ryan Gosling for playing young men as believable as they are psychologically trip-wired."[8] LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas wrote, "At a time when most American movies, studio made or 'independent,' seem ever more divorced from anything approximating actual life experience, Half Nelson is so sobering and searingly truthful that watching it feels like being tossed from a calm beach into a raging current."[9]

Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan gave the film an enthusiastic response, stating in his review, "What is different about Half Nelson is the execution, the kind of subtlety in writing, directing and acting (by costars Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie as well as Gosling) you seldom see."[10] Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote that "a dedicated, charismatic, crack-addicted history teacher is the most believable protagonist in an American movie this year."[11]

The Monthly film critic Luke Davies described the film as "engaging and elegant, unpredictable and non-didactic, a film which comfortably sits with its own ambiguities and even allows them to go largely unresolved," commending the film's fresh take on the occasionally exhausted "teacher with a heart of gold" story, achieved by "one of the [film's] quiet strengths ... that it doesn't try to resolve Dunne's journey of devouring". Davies concluded that the film's optimistic and pessimistic convergence deemed the film "transparent and sparkling and diamond-hard, a small gem."[12] Paste Magazine named it one of the "50 Best Movies of the Decade" (2000–2009), ranking it at #16.[13]


Half Nelson: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released August 8, 2006
Recorded 2006
Genre Indie pop
Indie rock
Length 56:46
Label Lakeshore Records
Producer Mark Ronson
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[14]

Half Nelson: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released in the United States and Canada on August 8, 2006 by Lakeshore Records. The Canadian band Broken Social Scene, featured prominently throughout the film, is also included on the soundtrack.[14]

Track listing
No. Title Performer(s) Length
1. "Stars & Sons" Broken Social Scene 5:09
2. "Evacuation" The Somnambulants 4:12
3. "Wanted" Rhymefest/Samantha Ronson 3:27
4. "Black Hearts" Remy Balon 3:18
5. "A New England" Billy Bragg 2:14
6. "The Corner" Saigon 4:20
7. "Shampoo Suicide" Broken Social Scene 4:07
8. "Na Ni Na" Conjunto Céspedes 5:21
9. "Just Begun" Baby Blak/King Honey 4:30
10. "Sometimes" Dujeous? 4:30
11. "It's Alright to Cry" Rosey Grier 2:25
12. "Can't You See" The Marshall Tucker Band 6:03
13. "Da Da Dada" Broken Social Scene 7:10
Total length: 56:46


Many of the nominations were for Ryan Gosling, including the Academy Award, for his performance as Dan Dunne.

Home media[edit]

Half Nelson was released on DVD on February 13, 2007, courtesy of ThinkFilm and Sony Pictures.[15] Bonus features include outtakes, deleted scenes, filmmaker commentary, and a music video by Rhymefest. The film has earned $16,180,000 in rentals and $1,538,323 in DVD sales.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Half Nelson (2006)". The Numbers. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  2. ^ "Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  3. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 11–13, 2006. Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  4. ^ "Half Nelson". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  5. ^ "Half Nelson". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  6. ^ "Ebert & Roeper, Reviews for the Weekend of August 12–13, 2006". TVPlex.Go.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  7. ^ Emerson, Jim (September 15, 2006). "Half Nelson". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  8. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (August 9, 2006). "Half Nelson Review". Entertainment Weekly. EW.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  9. ^ Foundas, Scoot. "Opposites Attract – Scott Foundas – The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles". LAWeekly.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  10. ^ Turan, Kenneth. "'Half Nelson' – MOVIE REVIEW". Los Angeles Times. CalentarLive.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  11. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Chicago Reader: Movie Reviews". ChicagoReader.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  12. ^ "'Headlock: Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson"'". TheMonthly.com.au. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  13. ^ "The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000–2009)". Paste Magazine. November 3, 2009. Retrieved December 14, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Monger, James Christopher. "Half Nelson – Original Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Retrieved June 10, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Half Nelson (2006)". Amazon.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Half Nelson – Box Office Data, DVD Sales". The-Numbers.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012. 

External links[edit]