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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Half Nelson

    By the time you read this, it will be only a few days until the Oscars.’ Sunday’s Newsday focused on how this year’s nominees were mostly first-timers and awarded for being bad. However, this judgment doesn’t apply to ‘Half Nelson.’

    Ryan Gosling, up for Best Actor, has been working since the mid-90s and has been gradually honing his talent. Does anyone remember him from the Saturday morning TV show, ‘Breaker High?’ Although his character was eccentric, hyper, and adorable, there was no flashing sign of how great he would become.

    In ‘Half Nelson,’ his role as a Brooklyn junior high history teacher, Daniel Dunne, is unforgettable along with the story at large. It was a powerful thought-provoking performance and film. The young girl who played his student and confidant, Drey (played by Shareeka Epps), is someone to pay attention to. A critic once described her as acting with a ‘quiet fire.’ It is a perfect phrase. She has a facial calmness but her eyes are burning with sadness, youth, and strength. These two characters’ friendship is innocent in intention, but surrounded by conflict and drugs.

    Dunne is the cool teacher that wants to make them think, not just memorize. He is the girls’ basketball coach that only wants fairness. He is also is a drug addict that comes to school with a glaze over his eyes. Daniel’s reasons for induced escape are unclear, but the resulting depression is obvious.’ Drey is a latchkey kid whose mom works long shifts as an EMT, whose father is significantly absent, whose brother is in jail for a crime his friend, Frank, committed, and a basketball player with too much to think about at a young age.

    Drey has friendships with both Daniel and Frank, but who is the better role model? Frank is a non-using drug dealer. Daniel is an authority figure with a drug problem. Both of them care for her equally. One day Daniel confronts Frank about his bad influence and tells him to stop seeing Drey. But Frank ends up selling to Daniel. This is what happens when white and black are put together: you get gray. And the situation is balanced. Both are far from perfect, yet each can provide what the other cannot.

    When we are young, we often wonder what our teachers’ lives are outside of school. Ideally, teachers are expected to lead exemplary lives and have no personal faults. But the truth is that they are human and have their own problems to deal with. This film almost makes you wonder if authority figures are no better than those they lead, why should they be followed?

    The story moved slowly to be psychological. The music was well-chosen. The lighting was representative. The set design was just right. Everything came together to create a somber and realistic exposure to an unlikely, though understandable, relationship between student and teacher.

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