Half Nelson (film)

Half Nelson is a 2006 American drama film directed by Ryan Fleck and written by Fleck and Anna Boden. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie. It was scored by Canadian band Broken Social Scene. Gosling was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

Half Nelson
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRyan Fleck
Produced by
Written by
  • Anna Boden
  • Ryan Fleck
Music byBroken Social Scene
CinematographyAndrij Parekh
Edited byAnna Boden
Distributed byTHINKFilm
Release date
  • January 23, 2006 (2006-01-23) (Sundance)
  • September 22, 2006 (2006-09-22) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.9 million[1]

The story concerns an inner city middle-school teacher who forms a friendship with one of his students after she discovers that he has a drug habit. The film is based on a 19-minute film made by Boden and Fleck in 2004, titled Gowanus, Brooklyn.[2] It premiered in competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. It was released theatrically on August 11, 2006.


Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young middle-school history teacher at a Brooklyn school, with a teaching style that rejects the standard curriculum in favor of an approach based upon dialectics (specifically Engels' three laws of dialectics).

Though he seems to have it all together in the classroom, on his own time he is found frequently snorting and freebasing cocaine. After a basketball game, Dan's ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Tina Holmes) turns up, evoking emotions that he cannot handle. A short while later, one of his students (and a player on the girls' basketball team he coaches), Drey (Shareeka Epps), catches him getting high in the locker room.

Meanwhile, Drey has to deal with a single-mother (Karen Chilton) who is always at work, a brother, Mike (Collins Pennie), who is in prison for selling drugs for neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie) and an absent father. Drey's lack of supervision makes her a target for Frank's operation and he encourages her to become involved in his business.

As Dan and Drey develop a better understanding of each other as friends, they each know what the other one should avoid and what they need, but are struggling to get by themselves. Dan perceives that Frank is a bad influence on Drey and tries to intercede. And Drey tries to get Dan to open up about his drug habit to no avail as he feels uncomfortable talking with a student about it.

After a tense conversation with Frank about Drey, Dan visits Isabel (Monique Gabriela Curnen), another teacher at the school with whom he had one previous date. He forces himself on her, trying to right his apparent disinterest in her on their last date. After she defends herself and runs off, he feels bad and decides to leave. The following day, he further takes his stress out on Drey, telling her to talk to friends her own age. Drey, upset at this, is pushed further into the company of Frank, and he has her undertake her first drug sale.

Dan goes to his parents' house for dinner. He says little, and does not enjoy himself much, but a joke makes him laugh. The same night, Drey is out with Frank, dealing. In the film's pinnacle scene, Drey arrives at a place to deliver some drugs and walks into a room of stoned drug users. Dan is revealed to be the buyer. He walks out of the back room and slumps down at the sight of Drey as the drug runner. There is only a slight shameful nod from him as he hands her money for the drugs. The next day, Dan is not at school, and his students are told that he is being replaced by a Mr. Light, without much explanation. This changes something within Drey. She refuses a lift home from Frank, choosing to turn from that path.

She knocks on Dan's door and he answers. He goes into the bathroom, shaves and cleans himself up, before sitting down to drink a glass of water. Drey sits down and joins him. The film ends with Dan telling the same joke he heard from Cindy, but the timing is all wrong. Drey says, "That was horrible", and they both laugh.


  • Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, a troubled history teacher
  • Shareeka Epps as Drey, a 13-year-old student of Dan's
  • Anthony Mackie as Frank, a local drug dealer
  • Monique Gabriela Curnen as Isabel, a teacher
  • Denis O'Hare as Jimbo, a teacher
  • Starla Benford as Principal Henderson
  • Nathan Corbett as Terrance, a student
  • Tyra Kwao-Vovo as Stacy, a student
  • Jeff Lima as Roodly, a student
  • Karen Chilton as Karen, Drey's mother
  • Deborah Rush as Jo Dunne, Dan's mother
  • Jay O. Sanders as Russ Dunne, Dan's father
  • David Easton as Jeff Dunne, Dan's brother
  • Nicole Vicius as Cindy, Jeff's girlfriend
  • Collins Pennie as Mike, Drey's brother
  • Tina Holmes as Rachel, Dan's ex-girlfriend
  • Tristan Wilds as Jamal, a student
  • Erica Rivera as Erika
  • Bryce Silver as Bernard
  • Kaela C. Pabon as Lena
  • Stephanie Bast as Vanessa
  • Eleanor Hutchins as Simone
  • Sebastian Sozzi as Javier
  • Thaddeus Daniels as Referee
  • Raymond Anthony Thomas as Earle
  • Ron Cephas Jones as Mr. Dickson
  • Christopher Williamson as Charles
  • Leslie Eva Glaser as Rose
  • Sharon Washington as Suzanne


Box office performance

The film was given limited release opening in two theaters, taking in $53,983 its opening weekend.[3] The film grossed $2,697,938 in North America and $1,962,543 internationally for a worldwide gross of $4,660,481.[1] The film's budget was $700,000.[1]

Critical response

Half Nelson received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 90%, based on 130 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Half Nelson features powerful performances from Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps. It's a wise, unsentimental portrait of lonely people at the crossroads."[4] On Metacritic the film has a score of 85 out of 100, based on reviews from 31 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[5]

On the television show Ebert & Roeper that aired during the weekend of August 13, 2006, Richard Roeper and guest critic Kevin Smith gave Half Nelson a "two big thumbs up" rating. Smith said that it was probably one of the ten best films he had seen in the last decade.[6] Jim Emerson, editor of Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film four-stars-out-of-four and called it a masterpiece.[7]

Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum awarded the film with an "A" and stated in her review for the film, "Half Nelson offers an opportunity to marvel, once again, at the dazzling talent of Ryan Gosling for playing young men as believable as they are psychologically trip-wired."[8] LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas wrote, "At a time when most American movies, studio made or 'independent,' seem ever more divorced from anything approximating actual life experience, Half Nelson is so sobering and searingly truthful that watching it feels like being tossed from a calm beach into a raging current."[9]

Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan gave the film an enthusiastic response, stating in his review, "What is different about Half Nelson is the execution, the kind of subtlety in writing, directing and acting (by costars Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie as well as Gosling) you seldom see."[10] Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote that "a dedicated, charismatic, crack-addicted history teacher is the most believable protagonist in an American movie this year."[11]

The Monthly film critic Luke Davies described the film as "engaging and elegant, unpredictable and non-didactic, a film which comfortably sits with its own ambiguities and even allows them to go largely unresolved," commending the film's fresh take on the occasionally exhausted "teacher with a heart of gold" story, achieved by "one of the [film's] quiet strengths ... that it doesn't try to resolve Dunne's journey of devouring". Davies concluded that the film's optimistic and pessimistic convergence deemed the film "transparent and sparkling and diamond-hard, a small gem."[12] Paste Magazine named it one of the "50 Best Movies of the Decade" (2000–2009), ranking it at #16.[13]


Half Nelson: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
ReleasedAugust 8, 2006
GenreIndie pop
Indie rock
LabelLakeshore Records
ProducerMark Ronson
Professional ratings
Review scores

Half Nelson: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released in the United States and Canada on August 8, 2006 by Lakeshore Records. The Canadian band Broken Social Scene, featured prominently throughout the film, is also included on the soundtrack.[14]

Track listing
1."Stars & Sons"Broken Social Scene5:09
2."Evacuation"The Somnambulants4:12
3."Wanted"Rhymefest/Samantha Ronson3:27
4."Black Hearts"Remy Balon3:18
5."A New England"Billy Bragg2:14
6."The Corner"Saigon4:20
7."Shampoo Suicide"Broken Social Scene4:07
8."Na Ni Na"Conjunto Céspedes5:21
9."Just Begun"Baby Blak/King Honey4:30
11."It's Alright to Cry"Rosey Grier2:25
12."Can't You See"The Marshall Tucker Band6:03
13."Da Da Dada"Broken Social Scene7:10
Total length:56:46


Many of the nominations were for Ryan Gosling, including the Academy Award, for his performance as Dan Dunne.

Home media

Half Nelson was released on DVD on February 13, 2007, courtesy of ThinkFilm and Sony Pictures.[15] Bonus features include outtakes, deleted scenes, filmmaker commentary, and a music video by Rhymefest. The film has earned $16,180,000 in rentals and $1,538,323 in DVD sales.[16] It was released on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom in November 2015.[17]

See also


  1. "Half Nelson (2006)". The Numbers. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  2. "Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  3. "Weekend Box Office Results for August 11–13, 2006. Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  4. "Half Nelson". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  5. "Half Nelson". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  6. "Ebert & Roeper, Reviews for the Weekend of August 12–13, 2006" Archived 2008-04-10 at the Wayback Machine. TVPlex.Go.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  7. Emerson, Jim (September 15, 2006). "Half Nelson". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  8. Schwarzbaum, Lisa (August 9, 2006). "Half Nelson Review". Entertainment Weekly. EW.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  9. Foundas, Scoot. "Opposites Attract – Scott Foundas – The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles". LAWeekly.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  10. Turan, Kenneth. "'Half Nelson' – MOVIE REVIEW". Los Angeles Times. CalentarLive.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  11. Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Chicago Reader: Movie Reviews" Archived 2007-02-23 at the Wayback Machine. ChicagoReader.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  12. "'Headlock: Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson"'". TheMonthly.com.au. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  13. "The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000–2009)". Paste Magazine. November 3, 2009. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  14. Monger, James Christopher. "Half Nelson – Original Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  15. "Half Nelson (2006)". Amazon.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  16. "Half Nelson – Box Office Data, DVD Sales". The-Numbers.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  17. Half Nelson Blu-ray. Blu-ray.com.
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