The Believer

"Weak"

The Believer Review


Religious doubt leads to violence in this slice-of-lifer that won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival -- now finally making tentative steps in general release.

Jewish self-hatred is an interesting foundation for a film, if only because it's a subject never explored by an industry still apologizing for the Holocaust. The lengths to which someone will go to redefine and prove themselves a member of the enemy circle are certainly compelling. But when the main character in question dives between extremes without a single clear definition of his motives, the strength of the narrative suffers. A double life can only work when you are aware of some of the triggers that push some semblance of reality into the character in question.

Danny's (Ryan Gosling) Jewish schooling has apparently left him with so many doubts, that the only cure for his intellectual suffering is the impenetrable wish to kill them all. Jews run and own everything anyway, so this will be a popular new sport to reset society, right? Finish what Hitler started!

Danny is encouraged along this bastardly streak by a Fascist circle he easily, miraculously even, finds on the Internet, headed by Curtis (Billy Zane, Titanic) and Lina (Theresa Russell, Black Widow). These two folks don't have the passionate quality that Danny has when he speaks, even though they have the intellectual capacity to back themselves in a fight, which Danny can't. With each prank Danny pulls, they edge him towards public speaking for fundraising, while their daughter Carla (Summer Phoenix) finds ways to uncover Danny's Judaism and sleep with him.

Danny's brutality is acceptable because that is how we first see him. His mindset is a little hard to swallow, because an intelligent 26-year old could definitely find better pursuits, even when approaching his internal boiling point. His struggle as he is received farther into the Nazi underworld is nicely portrayed with poignant undertones. Danny's internal battle is compulsively watchable once these theorems are digested, like taking a geometry course.

The problem becomes why he all of the sudden feels an affinity for his previous life, seemingly just by looking at Torah scrolls. It's one thing to fake missing a gunshot because actually killing another person takes more mental preparation than you bargained for. It's another to begin vandalizing a synagogue, only to stop in the middle of it because the Torah has been uncovered. These quick changes of behavioral pattern are rampant throughout the film, and hurt the overall quality of pain Danny is experiencing.

And, unfortunately, due to stodgy, soap opera-ish dialogue, the rest of the cast comes across as stick figures reading lines from a TelePrompTer. For all of the assumptive commentary spoken by Danny's elders and leaders, not one of them holds an emotional link to their words that makes them believable. Maybe this is supposed to complement Danny's rapid mood swings, but instead leaves each scene boringly predictable in terms of interaction and outcome.

The Believer is a good idea at its base. If Danny's journey between despising and affirming his background had been better plotted, it could even be used to discuss religious questioning with those institutions that are always complaining about the apathy of the young, no matter what the denomination.



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: 2 / 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

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