All the well-meaningness in the world can’t erase the fact that Henry Bean’s The Believer feels like a 12-Step Program for the Jewish Nazi. Despite its overwhelming sense of verisimilitude and powerhouse performances, the film is burdened by lecture. Proving that God’s kill-Isaac routine has become the bourgeoning atheist’s signature qualm with Judaism, a young Danny Balint trades his combat zone yeshiva for swastika shirts and bench-pressing. The Believer is loosely based on the story of Daniel Burros, a KKK leader who committed suicide after a New York Times reporter exposed his Jewish heritage. Balint’s gripes are both frightening and incomprehensible if not obvious as button-pushing setups for higher learning. Balint and his gang of skinheads cause a scene at a kosher restaurant only to end up at the receiving end of sensitivity training while a Wall Street honcho feeds Danny (Ryan Gosling) a “you’ll want money” learning-lesson when he tries to secure funding for a racist movement manned by Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane), challenging Danny’s notion that all Jews are money-hungry. Carla Moebius (Summer Phoenix), daughter of Theresa Russell’s society hate-monger, is a fascinating cipher—she’s Danny’s Achilles’ heel, a curious S&M freak whose bizarre interest in Hebrew and vomit-kisses fascinatingly challenges his anti-Semitic rage. In the end, the film’s humor strikes a more authentic nerve than Bean’s egregious flashback sequences and heavy-handed finale. When Bean’s camera stays on Gosling and strays from the reparative therapy narrative, The Believer soars. Gosling makes you feel Danny’s conflictions and his compulsive need to hate the very thing he so secretly loves.
- Fireworks Pictures
- 98 min
- Henry Bean
- Henry Bean
- Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Glenn Fitzgerald, Garret Dillahunt, Kris Eivers, Joel Garland, Joshua Harto, Theresa Russell, Billy Zane
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