The Believer

"Good"

The Believer Review


Controversy has engulfed "The Believer" since its premiere at last year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize but still couldn't find a distributor because it's a frank and frightful portrayal of an angry young Jew who hates his own heritage so much he becomes a neo-Nazi.

An intense examination of faith and a challenge to the notion of blind faith, it has been misunderstood by filmgoers who can't stomach being inside the head of Danny Balint (played by "Murder by Numbers" killer Ryan Gosling). That is certainly understandable -- it's an ugly place full of intolerance and self-loathing.

The film has also been criticized over the possibility that it might find an audience among hate groups who may hear Danny's articulate, even well-argued malevolence and not see that in his obsession he's discovered a new, more profound (if twisted) devotion to his congenital creed.

But once you take a good look around in Danny's psyche, you discover -- along with the character himself -- that his vicious animosity is a complex dogma all his own, built around what he sees as a collective Jewish willingness to be victimized. From flashbacks of a 12-year-old Danny arguing with a rabbi about God's test of Abraham ("It's not about Abraham's faith! It's about God's power...He's a conceited bully.") to beating up a Jewish student underneath an elevated train station, Danny has been trying to find an outlet for what he feels should be a collective Jewish rage.

"Hit me! Hit me!" he screams at the kid he knocks down, genuinely wanting a Jew to beat up a skinhead -- even if it's him. Especially if it's him. Later when confronted by a room full of Holocaust survivors, he berates them for not fighting back against their captors.

In expressing Danny's inner turmoil, Gosling gives a remarkable performance that at times encompasses simultaneous hate and devotion. While vandalizing a synagogue with a group of skinhead grunts, he steers them clear of sacred items and reads from the Torah, to the dismayed shock of his companions, whom he then castigates for not knowing anything about the people they're supposed to hate. While speaking at an underground rally organized by ominously intellectual yuppie fascists (Theresa Russell and Billy Zane) who have taken him under their wing, he espouses embracing the Jewish people.

"The worse the Jews are hated, the stronger they become," he declares shortly before being shown the door. "Auschwitz created Israel."

Danny's ideology becomes chaotic as his Jewish faith beings to reassert itself. In part this is because he's being hounded by a New York Times reporter who knows he's been hiding his heritage from the skinheads and the fascists. In part it's due to the curiosity of Russell's sensuous teenage daughter (Summer Phoenix) who, fascinated by Danny's brooding intellect, discovers his secret and insists on learning Hebrew traditions as her own form of rebellion. But this growing chaos leads Danny toward lashing out one more time in the most violent way he can imagine to reassert his hatred.

Written and directed by Henry Bean, a self-described conservative Jew who based the story on a real-life Jewish neo-Nazi who killed himself when he was exposed, "The Believer" hits a few false notes when it goes to extremes that have nothing to do with religion or politics just to maintain the edge of intensity. (The girl kisses Danny right after he throws up in one scene. I guess that's supposed to prove her strange fidelity, but it only served to gross me out.)

But while it's a hard movie to watch and very well may be misinterpreted by hate-mongers whose ignorance precludes their understanding of its true meaning (assuming they even bother to see it), "The Believer" is ultimately a penetrating, potent exploration of sanctimony, self-awareness, self-hatred and self-determination.



The Believer

Facts and Figures

Run time: 102 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 23rd August 2001

Box Office USA: $0.2M

Box Office Worldwide: $416.9 thousand

Budget: $1.5M

Distributed by: IDP Distribution

Production compaines: Fuller Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 16

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Danny Balint, as Carla Moebius, as Lina Moebius, as Curtis Zampf, as Kyle, as Drake, as Guy Danielsen, as Danny's Father, as Billings, as Linda, as O.L., as Carleton, as Miriam, as Stuart, as Avi, Tommy Nohilly as Whit, Sig Libowitz as Rav Zingesser, Jacob Green as Young Danny, as Young Avi (as James G. McCaffrey), Frank Winters as Young Stuart, Peter Meadows as Orthodox Student, Chuck Ardezzone as Chuck, Lucille Patton as Mrs. Frankel, Michael Marcus as Polish Man, Roberto Gari as Ancient Jew, John Wills Martin as Hate Counselor (as John Martin), as Judge, Tibor Feldman as Rabbi Greenwalt, Jordan Lage as Roger Brand, Sascha Knopf as Cindy Pomerantz, as Ilio Manzetti, Christopher Kadish as Steve, as First Waiter

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Advertisement
Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.