AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Half Nelson
Director: Ryan Fleck (Dir)
Release Date:   25 Aug 2006
Duration (in mins):  104 or 106-107
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Cast: Ryan Gosling  (Dan Dunne)
  Jeff Lima  (Roodly)
  Shareeka Epps  (Drey)
 

Summary: White Brooklyn schoolteacher Dan Dunne regularly shows up to class hung over from his nighttime crack cocaine habit, but nevertheless is an impassioned educator. Dan tries to inspire his mostly African-American students by teaching history through the prism of dialectics, arguing that opposing forces create change. Dan also coaches the girls’ basketball team. Distressed after seeing his former girl friend, Rachel, at a game one night, he smokes crack in the supposedly empty girls’ locker room, but is discovered by one of his students, thirteen-year-old Drey. Drey is naturally reserved and betrays only a silent disappointment at seeing her teacher high and crouching in a toilet stall. Nevertheless, she stays with Dan, who is anxious, and later allows him to drive her home. Drey’s home is an empty apartment: her father is estranged, her mother works double shifts, and her older brother, Mike, is in prison. Drey is noticeably absent from class the next day, but returns on another day on which Dan explains the concept of turning points achieved during moments of opposition. To demonstrate, Dan arm-wrestles—and beats—a student. Despite Dan’s obvious enthusiasm, the principal reprimands him for refusing to stick to the mandated curriculum. Later, Dan learns that his crack pipe was found in the bathroom, but its owner cannot be identified. After school, meanwhile, Drey forms a wary but close bond with Mike’s friend and former employer, Frank, a drug dealer who helps support her family. Drey is unaware that Dan buys his drugs from Frank’s confederate, Harvey. Dan continues to guide his class through the period of the civil rights movement and intermittently attempts to stop taking drugs. During one such upswing he meets with Rachel, who is now a recovering addict and has a new life. Upset after learning that Rachel is engaged, Dan overreacts to a foul at a school basketball game and insults the referee, who kicks him off the court. When Drey checks on him afterward, he asks her if she knows Frank, who attended the game with his girl friend, Tina, and was obviously cheering for Drey. However, Drey pretends not to know Frank and Dan does the same. Hung over the next day, Dan lectures aimlessly to the now-bored students and eats lunch alone. He gives Drey a ride home again, but she claims to have lost her key so he will take her back to his apartment. Now becoming genuine friends, Drey and Dan relax into an easy banter, and when she learns he has a date that night, she shares her favorite silly knock-knock joke for him to use. In the evening, Dan’s date with his fellow teacher, Isabel, seems to go well and she spends the night, but he is cold toward her the next morning. Following a student dance in the gym one night, Dan intervenes when he discovers that Frank is taking Drey home. Dan goes too far in their tug of war over Drey and grabs her arm, so she leaves with Frank. Deflated by his own failings, the next day Dan lectures to his class about human imperfection, but is interrupted by a nosebleed. In despair, Dan abandons the class and takes refuge on a couch in the faculty lounge. That afternoon, Drey achieves her own conflicted success when she intimidates a boy into returning her stolen bicycle, while a quietly threatening Frank watches. Frank is elated by her achievement, but during a class field trip later, Drey privately conveys to Dan her fear that she may end up like her brother. This prompts Dan to confront Frank, who insists that Drey is like family to him. Frank then observes that Dan appears to believe that “what is white is right,” and the possible truth of this accusation throws Dan off-guard. Defeated again, Dan accepts Frank’s offer of a drink, and around 2:30 in the morning, turns up high on drugs at Isabel’s apartment. Dan is out of control and forces himself on Isabel, who punches him and hides in another room until he leaves. The next day, his lower lip covered with an American flag bandage, Dan is sullen and rebuffs Drey’s attempt to check on him at lunch. Some time later, Dan has dinner with his family and, rather than finding comfort there, realizes that both of his former activist parents are now alcoholic has-beens, and his father is a borderline bigot. Drey, meanwhile, is out with Frank, who has finally lured her into delivering drugs. When the subject of Dan comes up, she declares that Dan is her teacher and friend, but Frank observes that addicts have no friends. Frank knowingly sends Drey on a delivery late that night to a motel room, where she is stunned to find herself selling drugs to Dan, who is having a drug-fueled orgy with prostitutes. They make the exchange wordlessly, after which Frank drives Drey home. Drey’s mother finds her asleep on the couch, and although Drey has a heavy heart, she will not tell her mother what troubles her. The next day, a substitute teacher appears in class in place of Dan. Although Frank is waiting for Drey after school, she turns down his offer of a ride and instead goes to the motel, where she finds Dan alone and sees him home. At his apartment, Dan cleans up and shaves off his beard. Later, he attempts to tell a silly knock-knock joke that his brother told at dinner, but botches it and he and Drey share a laugh. 

Distribution Company: THINKFilm
Production Company: Silverwood Films
Original Media
Hunting Lane Films
Journeyman Pictures
Director: Ryan Fleck (Dir)
  Mariela Comitini (1st asst dir)
  Nick Bell (2d asst dir)
  Amyjoy Clark (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Jamie Patricof (Prod)
  Alex Orlovsky (Prod)
  Lynette Howell (Prod)
  Anna Boden (Prod)
  Rosanne Korenberg (Prod)
  Paul Mezey (Exec prod)
  Doug Dey (Exec prod)
  Scott London (Exec prod)
  Charlie Corwin (Exec prod)
  Clara Markowicz (Exec prod)
  Jeremy Kipp Walker (Co-prod)
  Hunter Gray (Assoc prod)
Writer: Anna Boden (Wrt)
  Ryan Fleck (Wrt)

Subject Major: Cocaine
  Drug addicts
  Drug dealers
  Friendship
  Students
  Teachers
 
Subject Minor: Attempted rape
  Bars
  Basketball
  Brothers and sisters
  Civil rights
  Idealism
  Motels
  Mothers and daughters
  New York City--Brooklyn
  Prisoners
  School superintendents and principals
  Working women

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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