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‘Half Nelson’ presents a gripping story

In this edition of the “Critic's Corner,” “Today” movie critic Gene Shalit reviews the new film, starring Ryan Gosling.
/ Source: TODAY

School's back in session for kids all over the country and a new movie about life in and out of the classroom is now open in theatres. It's called “Half Nelson,” and “Today” movie critic Gene Shalit thinks it deserves your full attention.

In “Half Nelson,” Dan Dunne (played by the superlative Ryan Gosling) teaches history to 8th graders in a downtrodden quarter of Brooklyn. He doesn’t go by the book; he teaches free style, invigorating the class. One pupil who gets it is Drey (Shareeka Epps), a bright youngster who admires him. Her unsettling discovery of Dan freebasing after school paradoxically draws them into an equal-caring friendship. “Half Nelson” pins its characters in conflicted positions: Dan’s despair for his lost love, Dan’s risky resolve to rescue Drey from a local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie), his enslavement to cocaine, yet his vitality in the classroom. Almost everyone in “Half Nelson” wrestles with life, trying to find some merit, some worth in it. With Ryan Fleck’s unerring direction, his script written with Anna Boden and Ryan Gosling’s engulfing performance, I felt as if I were enveloped in an engrossing novel that I wanted to go on and on. “Half Nelson” still has me in its grip, one of the year’s most satisfying films.