Review: Half Nelson (2006)

Directed by writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Half Nelson centers on an inter-city high school teacher (Gosling) with a drug habit who forms an unlikely bond with one of his students (Epps).

Boden and Fleck’s direction is impressive, managing to capture the action in an unsentimental and raw manner that’s brimming with humanity and emotional depth.

The relationship between Dan and Drey is pushed to the forefront as both find common-ground with each other through the problems they harbor as they battle to reach their own personal resolutions.

Through the awkward and bleak tone of the film humour erupts naturally, breaking the tension and enabling the audience to emote with and relate to the characters’ problems and hard-hitting themes of addiction, loneliness and acceptance that are explored through the films hard-hitting premise.

Gosling gives a stunning and mesmerising performance as the drug addict teacher, distinguishing this film from others of its nature and warranting his much-deserved Academy Award nomination.

Half Nelson is a well-balanced, brilliantly acted and refreshingly humorous study into the rarity of second chances.

Review: 127 Hours (2010)

Danny Boyle’s new movie, 127 Hours, sets the director’s frenetic nature and breathtaking use of visual storytelling against an honest, uplifting tale of survival.

127 Hours is based on the true story of the mountain climber Aron Ralston – played by James Franco – who takes a trip to Utah to explore the Blue John canyon.

Ralston parks his car and cycles 17 miles to the canyon, where he bumps into two female mountaineers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara).

After some frivolous activities, Ralston separates from the women and continues to explore, until his arm becomes pinned beneath a falling boulder, trapping him at the bottom of the canyon with nothing more than a bottle of water and a blunt penknife.

The opening act plays furiously, with Boyle intercutting images of city life with the tremendous representation of the Blue John canyon, captured superbly by cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak.

Franco’s Ralston is introduced as a candid, brutally confident and determined young man who leaves life’s troubles behind to bask in the freedom of the barren outback; a sentiment which enables the audience to empathise with the character from the offset.

The main focus of the film, however, is on Ralston’s initially rational, but increasingly delusional thoughts over the course of the 127 hours he’s stuck at the bottom of the canyon.

Boyle’s intense and crowded use of mise-en-scene, together with the repeated flashbacks and dream sequences, work extremely well in highlighting Ralston’s increasingly damaged mental state, something that’s further stressed by A. R. Rahman’s complimentary score.

The amputation scene, although graphic and matter-of-factly horrific, is smartly done. Boyle, while never hiding anything from the audience, never lingers too long, instead opting to focus on the sheer determination Ralston has to escape certain death and return to his loved ones.

Franco carries the film with an immensely sympathetic, yet restrained performance, one that, to his merit, never slips into the melodramatic and should earn him a well-deserved Academy Award nomination.

127 Hours is, at times, an excruciatingly difficult film to watch. Nevertheless, it is a masterfully vivid, tense, yet oddly exhilarating and uplifting film about one man’s determination and struggle for survival.

Credit must be given to Boyle, who turns a virtually unwatchable premise into an engaging, powerfully honest film to be savoured by the masses.