A Summary of the Movie "Half Nelson"

by Heather Bieber
Ryan Gosling starred in

Ryan Gosling starred in "Half Nelson."

Jason Kempin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In the American film "Half Nelson," Ryan Gosling plays an inner-city junior high school teacher named Dan Dunne who has a debilitating drug habit. Shareeka Epps received rave reviews for her performance as Drey, the student who discovers Dunne's secret. This independent drama was released on August 11, 2006. Filmed in and around New York City, it was rated "R" due to profanity, drug content and sexuality.


Dan Dunne is an unorthodox teacher and girls basketball coach in a Brooklyn district made up almost entirely of black and Hispanic students. While he attempts to inspire his students, his time away from the classroom is devoted to his crack habit. Drey, a member of the girls basketball team, struggles to come to grips with her life in the ghetto, an overworked mother and a drug-dealing brother who has been imprisoned. When she catches Dunne smoking crack in the locker room, Drey comes to her teacher's rescue. Tension builds as the teacher and student, while being unable to help themselves, yet try to save each other.

Cast and Crew

Well-known for such films as "The Notebook" and "Remember the Titans," Ryan Gosling leads the cast of "Half Nelson" as Dan Dunne. Shareeka Epps, who co-stars as Drey, also appeared in the earlier short-film version, "Gowanus, Brooklyn," which won an award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Awards and positive film critiques garnered Ryan Fleck, director and co-writer, and Anna Boden, editor, producer and co-writer, much attention in the industry.


Released by ThinkFilm, the film received high critical acclaim, which landed "Half Nelson" on most "Top-10" lists for 2006. The "Los Angeles Times" critic Kenneth Turan claimed that the movie was a masterpiece in execution and that the subtlety in writing, directing and acting made it stand out among other films released at the time. Editor Jim Emerson of rogerebert.com gave "Half Nelson" a four-star rating.


"Half Nelson" was nominated for numerous awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Ryan Gosling. The film won three Gotham Awards; it was named Best Film and Breakthrough Awards were given to Shareeka Epps for her performance and to Ryan Fleck as director. Epps and Gosling were named as Best Actress and Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards. Gosling was also recognized for Best Breakthrough Performance by the National Board of Review. The film received the Best Picture award from the American Film Institute and Best First Film by the New York Film Critics Society.

About the Author

In 1992 Heather Bieber began contributing to Pennsylvania's "Concerning Women" magazine. She has also worked for "Showbiz Weekly," "Fodor's Travel Guide," "Las Vegas Weekly," "Las Vegas Home & Design" and produced online content for QuinStreet Marketing. Bieber holds an Associate of Arts in graphic communications from Luzerne County Community College in Pennsylvania.

Photo Credits

  • Jason Kempin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images