Half Nelson
2006
**½
Director: Ryan Fleck
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Denis O’Hare, Starla Benford, Deborah Rush, Jay O. Sanders

Dan Dunne is an idealistic and idiosyncratic middle-school history teacher who nurses a serious drug habit. Drey, one of his pupils, is a 13-year-old girl from a broken home. These two dysfunctional people form an unusual friendship, which this indie drama portrays in a subtle, fresh and cliché-free manner. “If you can save one life, you can save the world” is the theme of the film, but the surprise is who saves who. Ryan Fleck’s feature debut is interesting but slow-paced and drawn out. No wonder, because he expanded it from his 20-minute short Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004). Another problem is Dan, who is a thoroughly loathsome and unsympathetic character. Ryan Gosling plays him well, though, even if he is about 10 years too young for the part.