Rising star Ryan Gosling, who made a name for himself in 2002's Murder by Numbers, turns in his best performance in The Believer, a low-budget drama about a Jewish neo-Nazi.
Gosling plays Danny Balint, a hardcore white supremacist who hates Jews with a passion and would like to see nothing more than have every single one of them killed. The source of his hatred is unknown, but he is intelligent and articulate, a well-spoken young man who becomes the prime candidate to lead a new underground political movement to put white supremacists into power. Still, despite his apparent devotion to the cause, there seems to be one thing that is holding him back - he is, after all, a Jew himself.
The Believer is a very, very interesting film, mainly thanks to Gosling's performance. Powering every scene he is in, Gosling looks like a young Ed Norton. His tenacity explodes on screen, and his character raises many interesting - though not necessarily convincing - arguments. Of course, the most interesting aspect of the film is that this character, a young man driven by so much hate, is Jewish; so, he essentially hates himself. The conflict within can be seen in every scene, and Gosling handles it terrifically.
One thing that needed more explanation, however, is the source of such hatred. Why would a Jewish kid turn on his people so much that he would become prejudiced against them? The movie seems to suggest that he became what he was because he was too smart for his own good, that he was willing to question all of the tiny traditions that make Jews what they are. For some this may be a convincing argument; for others, it won't be. Frankly, it would have been interesting to see how he transforms from being a kid who questions Jewish beliefs to a young man that associates with Nazi-lovers. The movie never explains how this happened.
The Believer raises some interesting questions and provides a setting for Gosling to show his acting strengths, but some of the good things may be lost in the otherwise poorly-done film. While the acting is good, the technical side of the film is so lousy that at times it is quite distracting. Movies do not have to look like big budget films - in fact, this one could have worked quite well with an indie feel - but they do have to appear as if they weren't made in a high school classroom. Most obvious are the flashback scenes, which show a younger version of the lead character in a Jewish classroom. These scenes are poorly acted and do not really give much insight into why this kid turned into what he has become. More than anything else, the flashback scenes seem out of place compared to the rest of the movie.
Also disappointing is the ending, which is a bit weak and anti-climatic. There needed to be more in the last few minutes of the movie to make everything feel satisfying. Though similar to the conclusion of American History X in some ways, I did not feel the same sense of loss or impact that was felt at the end of that classic.
Aside from a great performance from Gosling, The Believer suffers from poor direction and its inability to adequately explain the lead character.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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