Half Nelson

Rated 3.0

A Brooklyn middle-school teacher (Ryan Gosling) is such a drugged-out failure that he can’t even tell a knock-knock joke, yet he thinks he can “save” one of his students (Shareeka Epps) from the influence of a local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie)—never realizing that both of them are much higher-functioning organisms than he is. Co-writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who also directed) expand their indie-circuit short to feature length, and a padded-out short is just what it looks and feels like. It’s a well-acted character study (especially by Epps as the most likeable of the three), but Boden and Fleck make all their points in the opening minutes and then repeat them over and over. The film becomes as sluggish and stagnant as the main character’s wasted life, and instead of really ending, it simply stops.