This weekend I finally watched Half Nelson a movie that I have wanted to see since it was in theaters. It probably would never have made it on my radar except that I happened to catch Ebert and Roeper one night when Kevin Smith was sitting in for Roger Ebert. Both Smith and Roeper raved about this film and I believe that it was Kevin Smith who stated that "this was what movie making was all about."
The fact that they both spoke, nay raved so rapturously about it that I wrote it down on my must see list. Of course I don't actually go to the movies that often because the whole sitting with the public in a dark room thing usually annoys me. When it came out on DVD I rented it THREE times and started watching it twice before I finally made it through.
What those guys didn't mention is that this movie is really hard to watch. Not because it's bad but because it's painful. Ryan Gosling richly deserved the Academy Award nomination - his performance was nothing short of amazing. It was like being that proverbial fly on the wall watching someone implode.
I've had friends who picked up the pipe and honestly, I haven't felt much compassion for them. They turned into drug addicts and stopped being the people that I loved. With this performance Ryan Gosling's Dan Dunne continued to be someone I cared about who didn't seem to care much about himself or his good heart or his fine mind and it broke my heart.
He has a connection with his student Drey, a smart 13 year old who's living largely on her own because her mom works all the time and her dad is MIA and after she catches him hitting the pipe in the girls bathroom (he's the basketball coach) the crack crutch starts to slip a bit. Everytime he looks at her he sees what she saw and it bums him out. This is compounded by the fact that her brother is doing time for selling rock and the neighborhood crack dealer, his dealer, is taking a personal interest in Drey.
He really likes this kid and wants her to be okay despite the fact that the odds are against her and he's not really one to talk. I really liked her too - Shareeka Epps is a revelation. I hope to see her working a lot more. She's got this face that is young and old at the same time and it says so much without her saying one word.
After I watched it I had that feeling in my chest that I get when I really want to cry - a tightness around the heart and pain behind my eyes. I had no idea how it was going to turn out for Dan and Drey but I very much wanted them to be okay. And I didn't believe that was really going to happen.
If you haven't seen Half Nelson you should see it. It's a fantastic film. But it's not a feel good experience. It will sit on you long after it's over.