Sunday, October 01, 2006

Half Nelson

I feel good. After The Science of Sleep last week, I saw another almost-great movie this weekend. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck) sounds so horrible on paper, a smorgasbord of cliches. Not good cliches, either. Bad ones. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad ones. It's like someone looked into my personal list of subjects the movies are awful at exploring. Let's check them off:
Drug addiction
White teacher inspiring inner-city youth
Race relations
Leftist politics
Inappropriate relationships between male authority figures and young girls
Drug dealers
Hippies becoming yuppies
Chasm between parents and children
The possibility of redemption

This movie is about all these things, all these things I've never, ever, ever wanted to see covered in a movie ever again, not even incidentally, and somehow is one of the best things I've seen all year. Every character is flawed, complex, and treated with respect. Every issue raised is raised honestly. Every situation is presented without melodrama. Almost every cliche is avoided. The use of background music is unusual and effective, only overbearing on a few occasions. The quiet expression of futility and outrage about our current political situation is refreshing. The characters are never let off the hook for their flaws, but are never reduced to simplistic representations of general ideas. One scene in particular, in which one character confronts the other, begins like any scene of this kind and becomes something else, something that happens often in life but almost never in a film. I'm glad I took a chance on it.

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