Half Nelson (film)

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Half Nelson
A man standing in front of a blackboard, the words "half nelson" written prominently in white chalk.
Theatrical release poster by Tze Chun
Directed byRyan Fleck
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyAndrij Parekh
Edited byAnna Boden
Music byBroken Social Scene
Distributed byTHINKFilm
Release dates
  • January 23, 2006 (2006-01-23) (Sundance)
  • September 22, 2006 (2006-09-22) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.9 million[1]

Half Nelson is a 2006 American drama film directed by Ryan Fleck and written by Fleck and Anna Boden. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie. It was scored by Canadian band Broken Social Scene. 26-year-old Gosling was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, becoming the eighth-youngest nominee in the category.

The story concerns an inner city middle-school teacher who forms a friendship with a student, 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 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. While being an engaging teacher in the classroom, in his own time he is shown snorting and freebasing cocaine. Dan becomes upset when his ex-girlfriend, Rachel, turns up unexpected at a school basketball game, wanting to see him. A short while later, one of his students, Drey, catches him freebasing in the locker room.

Drey's family consists of her overworked single-mother and her brother, Mike, who is in prison for selling drugs for a neighborhood dealer, Frank. Drey's father is also absent, making her dependent on Dan for rides home from school. Her lack of supervision also makes her a target for Frank, who encourages her to sell drugs for him. As Dan and Drey's friendship develops, Dan perceives Frank to be a bad influence on her and tries to persuade him to stay away from her. Drey tries to get Dan to open up about his drug habit to her, though to no avail.

After a tense conversation with Frank about Drey, Dan becomes intoxicated and visits Isabel, another teacher at the school whom he has dated. Initially seeking affection, he then forces himself on her, and she defends herself and runs from him; Dan leaves after apologizing. The following day, Dan is hostile towards Drey, ignoring her concern for him and telling her they are not friends. Drey instead associates with Frank, and completes her first drug sale for him.

Dan goes to his parents' house for dinner, though he is distant and uninterested in the conversation. Dan's brother's girlfriend, Cindy, catches him freebasing in the garage; the two converse and she tells him a joke which makes him laugh. The same night, Drey is out with Frank, selling drugs. Drey arrives at a motel to make a delivery and finds a room of people using drugs. Dan is there and is revealed to be the buyer. The two do not talk as he hands her the money.

The next day, Dan is absent from school, and the class has a substitute teacher. Drey is affected by his absence, and declines a ride home from Frank once school is finished. She instead visits Dan's motel room, finding him hung-over from the previous night. Dan 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 he gets the timing of the joke wrong, ruining it. Drey and Dan both break out in laughter at his failed joke.


  • Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, a troubled history teacher
  • Shareeka Epps as Drey, a 13-year-old student of Dan's
  • Anthony Mackie as Frank, a local drug dealer
  • Monique Gabriela Curnen as Isabel Redding, a teacher
  • Denis O'Hare as Jimbo, a teacher
  • Starla Benford as Principal Joy Henderson
  • Nathan Corbett as Terrance, a student
  • Tyra Kwao-Vovo as Stacy, a student
  • Jeff Lima as Roodly, a student
  • Karen Chilton as Karen, Drey's mother
  • Deborah Rush as Jo Dunne, Dan's mother
  • Jay O. Sanders as Russ Dunne, Dan's father
  • David Easton as Jeff Dunne, Dan's brother
  • Nicole Vicius as Cindy, Jeff's girlfriend
  • Collins Pennie as Mike, Drey's brother
  • Tina Holmes as Rachel, Dan's ex-girlfriend
  • Tristan Wilds as Jamal, a student
  • Erica Rivera as Erika
  • Bryce Silver as Bernard
  • Kaela C. Pabon as Lena
  • Stephanie Bast as Vanessa
  • Eleanor Hutchins as Simone
  • Sebastian Sozzi as Javier
  • Thaddeus Daniels as Referee
  • Raymond Anthony Thomas as Earle
  • Ron Cephas Jones as Lloyd Dickson
  • Christopher Williamson as Charles
  • Leslie Eva Glaser as Rose
  • Sharon Washington as Suzanne
  • Larry Rapp


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 157 reviews, with an average rating of 7.57/10. 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
ReleasedAugust 8, 2006
GenreIndie pop
Indie rock
LabelLakeshore Records
ProducerMark Ronson
Professional ratings
Review scores

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
1."Stars & Sons"Broken Social Scene5:09
2."Evacuation"The Somnambulants4:12
3."Wanted"Rhymefest/Samantha Ronson3:27
4."Black Hearts"Remy Balon3:18
5."A New England"Billy Bragg2:14
6."The Corner"Saigon4:20
7."Shampoo Suicide"Broken Social Scene4:07
8."Na Ni Na"Conjunto Céspedes5:21
9."Just Begun"Baby Blak/King Honey4:30
11."It's Alright to Cry"Rosey Grier2:25
12."Can't You See"The Marshall Tucker Band6:03
13."Da Da Dada"Broken Social Scene7:10
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] It was released on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom in November 2015.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d "Half Nelson (2006)" Archived 2017-01-08 at the Wayback Machine. The Numbers. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  2. ^ "Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004)" Archived 2021-09-04 at the Wayback Machine. IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  3. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 11–13, 2006 Archived 2012-08-18 at the Wayback Machine. Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  4. ^ "Half Nelson" Archived 2012-02-15 at the Wayback Machine. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  5. ^ "Half Nelson" Archived 2007-02-19 at the Wayback Machine. Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  6. ^ "Ebert & Roeper, Reviews for the Weekend of August 12–13, 2006" Archived 2008-04-10 at the Wayback Machine. TVPlex.Go.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  7. ^ Emerson, Jim (September 15, 2006). "Half Nelson" Archived 2006-10-26 at the Wayback Machine. Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  8. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (August 9, 2006). "Half Nelson Review" Archived 2007-02-09 at the Wayback Machine. Entertainment Weekly. EW.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  9. ^ Foundas, Scoot. "Opposites Attract – Scott Foundas – The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles" Archived 2007-03-02 at the Wayback Machine. LAWeekly.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  10. ^ Turan, Kenneth. "'Half Nelson' – MOVIE REVIEW" Archived 2007-02-26 at the Wayback Machine. Los Angeles Times. CalentarLive.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  11. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Chicago Reader: Movie Reviews" Archived 2007-02-23 at the Wayback Machine. ChicagoReader.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  12. ^ "'Headlock: Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson"'" Archived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine. TheMonthly.com.au. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  13. ^ "The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000–2009)". Paste Magazine. November 3, 2009. Archived from the original on October 17, 2017. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  14. ^ a b Monger, James Christopher. "Half Nelson – Original Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Archived from the original on June 15, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  15. ^ "Half Nelson (2006)". Amazon.com. Archived from the original on December 1, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  16. ^ "Half Nelson – Box Office Data, DVD Sales". The-Numbers.com. Archived from the original on September 6, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Half Nelson Blu-ray Archived 2015-09-11 at the Wayback Machine. Blu-ray.com.

External links[edit]