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The Believer
2002 - R - 100 Mins.
Director: Henry Bean
Producer: Susan Hoffman
Written By: Henry Bean
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Billy Zane, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   
Recently released on video, THE BELIEVER was one of my favorite films from the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and a multi-award nominee at the 2002 IFP awards. It ended up winning at Sundance and scoring a Best Actor nod for its star, Ryan Gosling. Since its berth from film festival glory, THE BELIEVER has been floundering in distribution hell, unable to find a theatrical distributor and finally getting some airings on Showtime.

THE BELIEVER is a blisteringly intelligent movie about blind faith. Loosely based on a true story, the film stars Canadian actor, Ryan Gosling (SLAUGHTER RULE, MURDER BY NUMBERS), as Danny Balint, an angry NY skinhead who joins a neo-Nazi group and escalates his violence and apparent hatred towards Jews. He plans assasinations and begins to lecture and convert crowds to the neo-Nazi cause. He learns how to use firearms and to build bombs. But the most fascinating thing is that Danny is actually Jewish.

It's a rare treat to watch an actor as talented as Gosling lose himself in the intellectual depth and study of religion, all the while playing an angry Nazi who is ashamed of himself and of being Jewish. Gosling learned the Hebrew alphabet and how to recite a number of prayers for this role. Is THE BELIEVER about self-loathing? About the love and hatred of faith and of how doctrine and orthodoxy ties the hands of its followers? Writer/director Henry Bean asks a number of tough questions and, through the character of Danny, tries to navigate an extreme search for truth.

Shot on digital video, THE BELIEVER has an uneasy look of being a documentary. It is a smart film that never portrays anyone - Neo-Nazi or Jew - in anything less than a multidimensional study. THE BELIEVER doesn't offer easy answers though it amazingly finishes off with an act of faith and love. There's clearly a message here about the dangers of following dogma and doctrine since Danny's intelligent inquisitions are directed first at dissecting Jewish doctrine and then at neo-Nazi doctrine before finally turning a critical eye on himself and his actions.

Billy Zane and Theresa Russell are chilling 'mother and father' figures in the neo-Nazi movement. Zane also sports the worst wig since Ethan's Hawke's 'teenage' wig in GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Watch for the memorable "NY Times reporter interview in the coffee shop" scene that had movie industry insiders comparing Gosling to DeNiro. Gosling has a disturbing ability to blink out of sequence that adds to his powerful portrayal. The weakest link here is Summer Phoenix, a neo-Nazi nymph who seems to be either permanently stoned or sleep-walking. It's a role that's been underwritten as if Bean added her in as an afterthought for some steamy Neo-Nazi sex.

THE BELIEVER is a must see film that deserves an audience willing to think about blind faith. It has been unfairly criticized as anti-semitic - a main reason why the film could not find traditional distribution - but beneath the inflammatory dialogue, THE BELIEVER is a very earnest and very smart look at an angry young man's journey for soul and validation.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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