A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Obviously this is a story about good role models who have bad sides, exemplified by Danny, the young teacher who really cares, but is also really messed up on drugs a lot of the time. His fellow administrators seem jaded and apathetic, though they're "straight." The student girl Drey is no angel, but she's smart enough to shy away from violence and destructive lifestyles. A drug dealer flaunts his easy-money earnings.
Violence & Scariness
The main character is struck in the face while nearly committing rape.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A montage-y tangle of limbs in a lyrical sex scene between Daniel and another teacher he takes as a lover. Later in a drug-fueled state he nearly rapes her. Scantily dressed females in drug dens and music-club environments.
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Much swearing, in arguments, street talk, and during heated school basketball games (Coach Dunne gets penalized for calling someone an asshole).
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Products & Purchases
Some popular songs on the soundtrack.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The main character is a drug-addict teacher who claims he can keep it under control, and we get glimpses of langorous crack-smoking parties and drinking in bars.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is no "hero white teacher saves the poor minority students" uplifter. Instead it's far more complex and challenging, because the white hero teacher, for all his good intentions, is also a drug user, a slave to narcotics on the streets, and conflicted about his job. There is much raw language; some sex, including a scene that mixes sex with violence; and the depiction of a strung-out addict. And the "straight" teachers in the school are jaded and calloused. The kids, especially the girl who learns Mr. Dunne's secret, seem less at-risk than he does. In class, Dunne's (unauthorized) history lessons come from a sharply left-wing stance, with reports on U.S. violations of law and human rights, at home and abroad. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
HALF NELSON is a refreshing, non-clichéd story about a troubled teacher in an inner-city school and his healing relationship with a young black student -- not the other way around. Uplifting schoolroom dramas like Freedom Writers, Coach Carter, Stand and Deliver, and Lean on Me are frequent and mainstream, but this indie-made film is something completely different. Even Frank is written on a smarter level than you'd expect, not a traditional villain.
Half Nelson is a film of shaded characterizations by excellent performers, and the plotline is mostly loose inferences and small moments, not big ones. As opposed to other "'hood" films, there's no gunfire, and potential violent confrontations don't go the expected route. The film also doesn't have a very strong ending (though it's clear the two main characters have turned corners in their lives). Indie filmmaking hallmarks like shaky camera movements and improv may not be everyone's cup of tea, but as discussion material, Half Nelson offers a lot more. It's also noteworthy as a serious feature with a young African-American female in a key role. Sadly, this remains rare in movies.
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Our Editors Recommend
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