My list of Actors I Will Watch In Any Movie:
1. Edward Norton
2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman
3. Dustin Hoffman
4. Billy Bob Thornton
and new to the 5th spot:
5. Ryan Gosling
Gosling is magnificent in his role as an inner-city public school teacher and basketball coach, who connects so easily with kids, but so poorly with adults. His Dan Dunn is a drug addict who can't shake his addiction, and his life--even without the crack pipe--is a disaster.
He smart and sensitive, but extremely flawed.
Watching a guy slowly self destruct with drug use doesn't do much to endear a character to an audience. But Gosling plays Dunn as a tragic figure, a sort of man-child who uses to numb himself from emotional turmoil. That allows the audience to feel some empathy for Dunn, and helps make the movie really work.
Shareeka Epps, a newcomer to movies, shows tremendous range in her portrayal of Drey, a student of Dunn's who is fighting the lure of the drug culture. By accident, Drey discovers Dunn's secret addiction, and serves as sort of surrogate little sister for Dunn. She gives him a focus he wouldn't have, otherwise.
Half Nelson is a dark and tragic film, but the experience is worth it to see Gosling and Epps work. Both performances are just that good.