Last Featured: Jan. 7, 2015
Ryan Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, a young teacher and girls’ basketball coach at a Brooklyn middle school. He tries to be a role model for his students, even though he’s struggling with a secret cocaine addiction.
When most people hear the phrase “drug addiction,” their minds jump to episodes of Intervention or images of junkies wasting away and shooting up in alleyways. But as we learn in the excellent Half Nelson, the face of drug addiction can be as unassuming as an eighth-grade social studies teacher.
Ryan Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, a young teacher and girls’ basketball coach at a Brooklyn middle school. He tries to be a role model for his students, which is a rather difficult task when you’re hiding a cocaine addiction. One of his students, Drey, catches him getting high in the locker room after a game, and the two become entwined in a complex friendship propelled by their mutual silence about the incident. Dan and Drey both work to improve the other’s life; Dan tries to keep Drey away from the neighborhood dealer, and Drey tries to get Dan to be honest and open with her about his drug habit.
Gosling, who earned his first Oscar nomination for his performance, is simply heartbreaking. Dan isn’t a bad person on purpose. He just got stuck on the wrong path, and he can’t find a way out. His attempts to get clean, teach his students intelligently, and keep Drey away from bad influences give addiction a human edge that is hard to find elsewhere in the media’s portrayal of drug abuse.