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Movie Review: Half Nelson

Alternate Title: To Sir, With Love

Story: No wait - this is not a story about wrestling. In wrestling, a half nelson means a person is stuck in one position. In a sense the film does concern characters who are stuck in positions either by their own choosing or by the accident of birth.

This film focus' on the unlikely friendship between an inner city junior high school history teacher and a young female student who walks a thin line between good and bad choices that are offered to her. Our teacher is an effective, inspiring, and basically not your standard curriculum kind of guy. By night he is addicted to drugs and alcohol and is mostly wasted and lost. Our young student catches him smoking crack and their friendship grows. They both try to help and protect one another but the odds are not in their favor.

This is not a formulaic, upbeat, Hollywood film. It presents the facts of their lives and the choices they face. It is a character study and you will find affection for the characters.

First time director Ryan Fleck does an admirable job presenting these very flawed characters. The film is based on Fleck's short film called Gowanus, Brooklyn, which won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance in 2004. This film is about commitment, politics, drugs, alliances, friendships and a glimmer of hope.

Acting: Ryan Gosling should be a Hollywood star. He is talented, good looking and believable. He was terrific as the teacher. Newcomer Shareeka Epps is amazing as the young girl.

Predilection: None

Critters: A street cat and a house cat.

Theater Audience: I saw this film at the NYC Film Festival a few months ago (thanks Joe) and it was packed.

Weather: Clear and sunny

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: It is never comfortable to see people's addiction on screen.

Drift Factor: It was a little long at parts but mostly riveting because of the acting.

Predictability Level: I did not know what was going to happen

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: No

Big Screen or Rental: Support an Indie and go to the big screen.

Length: A bit under two hours.