Unawarded at Sundance despite ample acclaim, this indie drama drags the white-teacher-inspires-black-students movie onto the mat and pins the flabby genre in the first round, such is the film's acute understanding not only of its opponent's weaknesses, but its own. "What can I teach them?" Ryan Gosling's Brooklyn junior-high history instructor wonders aloud in the bar after school -- as well he might, given that this lefty intellectual crack addict, called daily to stand and deliver at the podium, isn't exactly the image of stability. Neither is he an entirely plausible protagonist, but, as Gosling's Mr. Dunne likes to employ metaphor in the classroom, so first-time feature-maker Ryan Fleck instructs us to see his wannabe-activist basehead as a symbol of American do-gooding gone bad -- or at least gone woefully undirected. Whereas authority is generally expected to have the answers, Half Nelson is more than honest enough to settle for genuine uncertainty: It asks whether genuine uncertainty -- the vague sense that the world is too complicated to address or even understand -- is going to cut it in these divisive times.
Director: Ryan Fleck
Writer: Ryand Fleck & Anna Bowden
Producer: Anna Boden, Lynette Howell, Rosanne Korenberg, Alex Orlovsky and Jamie Patricof
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie, Tina Holmes, Jay O. Sanders, Karen Chilton, Monique Curnen, Collins Pennie and Deborah Rush