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

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

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.