Writes Jim Emerson, Editor, RogerEbert.com:
"…In a black-and-white world, human flaws are not allowed. In order to do good, a person must himself be a paragon of goodness. "Half Nelson," the miraculous movie by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, is about a junior high schoolteacher who smokes. Crack. And the thing is, he's a good teacher, even if (or, rather, because) he doesn't always stick to the district-approved syllabus.
"…"Ryan Gosling" may sound like the name of a teen heartthrob, but this performance, coming after "The Believer," proves he's one of the finest actors working in contemporary movies. And he's only 25 years old. Epps (no relation to Omar) is his perfect foil, as the kid for whom Dan cares the most. She doesn't say much, but she doesn't have to. Drey's got Dan's number, and may be the only person on earth who comes close to understanding who he is.
"Half Nelson" isn't one of those "inspirational teacher/mentor" movies -- at least not in any generic or conventional sense. There's no triumph, no breakthrough, no by-the-numbers victory in test scores or on the basketball court. This movie isn't about those things, but is concerned with an even greater achievement that is generally unacknowledged: how people -- flawed, miserable, frustrated people -- go to work every day and find a way to care about something beyond themselves, despite themselves.…"