A few years ago I swore of the “drug” movie as a genre I was just sick to death of. The last thing I wanted to do was to watch some self-destructive nitwit stick a needle in a vein in his neck and inject heroin. Or watch an equally self-destructive yahoo waste his education, throw away his family or all the other negative after effects that would come to those characters in the myriad of drug movies that were coming out at the time.
Recently I decided to watch Requiem for a Dream for the first time years after it came out. The film was about the most bleak, overrated movie I’d seen in a long time and I swore again—no more drug movies! Dang, I wish I’d kept that promise as Half Nelson is just another in a long line of films that show addicts destroy their lives for 2 hours.
This movie is getting a lot of hype (why I watched it) and Ryan Gosling is indeed very charismatic in the lead while delivering a great performance. Gosling is without a doubt, one of the finest young American actors working in film—yet Half Nelson is a story that I’ve witnessed before and rings in all the drug movie clichés.
The story, set partially in a school setting, as Gosling attempts to teach inner city kids, while balancing a secret life ingesting lots of chemicals in the night hours. The teaching methods he employs are pretty ridiculous and highly unbelievable in such a school as he tends to lecture middle school kids in a drug hangover, strung out on some substance, stream of conscience rambling and spinning out philosophy masquerading as history. No teacher would get away for this long, yet he appears to have done it for years. Come on.
The setting of the film in inner city schools never quite feels right and is a little off. HBO’s stellar show The Wire has similar backdrops for a few of its many storylines (kids in school, ravages of drugs) and it is so chockfull of gritty reality it makes Half Nelson seem like the phony-at-its-core film it is.
My relationship with these drug films is kind of like someone swearing off this or that—I seem to fall off the wagon and watch one of them every so often—but this time I’m serious. I’m quitting these drug movies for good. If Half Nelson is an over-hyped film, it at least got me back on the wagon.