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The Believer

Danny Balint is a skinhead. He wanders around in black boots and a t-shirt with a swastika on it, intentionally acting like a jerk around minorities to incite fights. His current goal in life is simple: he wants to kill Jews. Not only that, but Balint himself is Jewish. The Believer, a brutal examination of Danny's inner paradox, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Drama at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and also netted most of the major nominations at the 2002 Independent Spirit Awards (without winning any). Writer/director Henry Bean and co-writer Mark Jacobson fictionalized The Believer from actual events. Balint's life is extremely troubled, and destined for self-destruction.

Things move into a different arena after Balint (Ryan Gosling, Murder By Numbers, Remember the Titans) meets Lina Moebius (Theresa Russell, Luckytown Blues, Running Woman) and Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane, Zoolander, Hendrix). They are fascists, and are trying to move their movement into the mainstream. They feel that anti-Semitism is outdated and irrelevant, but admire Balint's passion and intelligence. They want to use him because he is a charismatic speaker who can bring people over to their side. Balint also meets Moebius' daughter Carla (Summer Phoenix, Dinner Rush, Committed). They also introduce Balint to other skinheads, who have knowledge and access to explosives, which will make Balint's goal all the easier.

Gosling's performance is terrifying. What makes it scarier is the fact that he is Jewish. Many of his associates begin to notice that he has a large knowledge of Jewish culture and traditions, and his response to this is "know your enemy." Carla begins asking him to teach her Hebrew and to participate in Jewish traditions, which seems to push him further over the edge. Yet, for all his self-hatred, Balint will still do odd things like protect the Torah, even as he and his friends desecrate a synagogue. His desire to kill Jews is more of a hatred of himself that he refuses to address. One interesting thing to note is that most of Balint's arguments degenerate into nothingness. He has the passion and zeal of a good public speaker, but he is really saying nothing. When people question his arguments, instead of answering them he threatens them with violence. Balint is afraid to look at things beyond a superficial level, and copes by lashing out against those that antagonize him.

The largest flaw in The Believer is a lack of explanation into the Balint character. Bean shows flashbacks to when Balint was a younger, argumentative student. Bean skips over at least a decade of Balint's life, never showing what transformed him into a vile skinhead. Something obviously happened when Balint was a child, and seeing this would add much more depth to his character. Zampf and the Moebius' also get the short end of the stick. They have potentially fascinating arguments about the way they think, but Bean also does not go into detail on them. Perhaps he did this to focus solely on Balint's rage and its effect on the people around him. This makes The Believer a strong movie, but not as strong as it could have been.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content.

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