The Believer

on May 17, 2002 by Chris Wiegand
   The nervy, adrenaline-fueled opening minutes of Sundance success “The Believer” suggest that Henry Bean, a proven screenwriter on “Internal Affairs” and “Enemy of the State,” also has an accomplished directorial style all of his own. While his unflinching and uncompromising portrait of anti-Semitism never quite lives up to the promise of its intro, it is nevertheless an intelligent feature debut (similar in theme to Bean's 1998 short “Thousand”) that promises great things for both its director and its young lead.

   The central character is Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling), a young New Yorker who embodies the film's central contradiction. A former Yeshiva student with a wide knowledge of Judaism and the Hebrew language, he is also an antagonistic skinhead who believes the modern world to be a Jewish disease. Through a series of (for once in the movies, effectively employed) flashbacks, we witness Danny's religious upbringing, seeing a precocious student turn into a dangerously articulate spokesman. At an underground meeting of a Fascist movement, this eloquence impresses Lina (Theresa Russell) and Curtis (Billy Zane), who take him under their wing. Soon Danny is part of a violent group of terrorists, placing dynamite beneath synagogues and planning high-profile assassinations. However, his faith comes to the fore when his occasional lover (Summer Phoenix) professes a desire to study Judaism herself.

   As Danny, Ryan Gosling (“Remember The Titans”) gives an intense performance easily comparable to Tim Roth's in “Made In Britain” and Edward Norton's in “American History X.” He dominates the film. Sadly, this is where “The Believer” comes undone. Gosling dominates the film because Danny dominates the script, which means that three potentially fascinating supporting characters--those forming his surrogate family--are too thinly drawn, and Zane, Russell and Phoenix thus struggle to convince. Nevertheless, as a portrait of the complexities facing a young Jewish Nazi, this is compelling stuff.    Starring Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Billy Zane and Theresa Russell. Directed and written by Henry Bean. Produced by Chris Roberts and Susan Hoffman. An IDP release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content. Running time: 96 min.

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