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Half Nelson - Preview

Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson

Preview by Jack Foley

ANOTHER of this year’s Sundance Festival hits made its way into US cinemas to great critical acclaim at the weekend, in the form of Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson.

The film stars Ryan Gosling as an idealistic inner-city teacher who strikes an unlikely friendship with one of his students, played by newcomer Shareeka Epps. The subsequent relationship brings hope to a man who had hitherto been trapped by his own demons.

A relative newcomer on the scene, director Fleck has received a number of accolades on the festival circuit for the film, including a screenwriting award at the Nantucket Film Festival, which he shared with co-writer Anna Boden. Half Nelson also received the jury prize for best director at the Philadelphia Film Festival and a FIPRESCI prize at the San Francisco International Film Festival, in addition to a best actor nod from the Seattle International Film Festival this year.

Critics in America have been similarly keen to heap praise on it following its debut in limited US cinemas over the August 11 weekend.

Entertainment Weekly, for instance, declared that 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”.

While The New York Observer noted that “the scalding talents of the moody, introspective young actor Ryan Gosling are sharply focused in Half Nelson, elevating an otherwise slight and depressingly offbeat film high above the realm of the ordinary with blast furnace force”.

Variety also credits “a terrific performance* from Gosling as the chief but by no means only reason for seeing it and Hollywood Reporter declared that Gosling establishes himself as “a major talent and one of the finest young actors around”.

The New York Times, meanwhile, declared it to be “that rarest of marvels: an American fiction film that wears its heart on its sleeve”.

Commenting about the film to Indiewire website, the film’s rapidly emerging young director Fleck said that the inspiration for the film came out “of a frustration with wanting to change the world but not having any idea where to start”.

“The character of Mr Dunne [Gosling] was born out of this frustration, a flawed idealist struggling with his limitations and hypocrisy,” he adds.

Certainly, from the critical response both from the mainstream critics and those on the festival circuit, Fleck seems to be turning heads impressively with what he has to say. Half Nelson looks certain to be an independent film to keep an eye out for in the closing part of the year.