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

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

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.