Henry Bean’s film “The Believer” was the Grand Jury Award winner at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and made a rising star out of Ryan Gosling. Although acting since he was little, this was Ryan’s first starring role and his performance was nothing short of brilliant. At first controversial due to its subject matter, if you actually watch the film you’ll find that the message is ultimately a positive one. The “Believer” is also based on a true story.
Gosling plays Danny Balint a morally confused young man with fervent hate for Jews, but get this he’s Jewish himself. Danny is a cocky young man with his buzz cut and proudly worn swastika t-shirt. The opening scene shows him stalk and terrorize a young Jewish man through the streets and subway of New York City. He punches and screams at him to fight back, but the man sheepishly takes it, only to walk away. Danny’s story is about a young man in the midst of a crisis of faith and that of identity. Somethings cannot be changed, his Jewish upbringing is so ingrained in his mind and body that no amount of rebellion or denial can shake what he truly is.
He roams around with a group of other white supremacists who seem to do nothing but pick fights and terrorize people. Often winding up in front of a judge, who sentences them to sensitivity training. They are brought before three Holocaust survivors and are forced to listen to their experiences in the concentration camps. While his friend mocks and disrespects them, Danny is moved by the story of a man whose young son was murdered by a Nazi soldier. This story will haunt him throughout the film as it is flashed back to a number of times.
Danny then meets up with Curtis (Billy Zane) and Lina, the leaders of an organized fascist group, who see potential in him as a great leader and speaker to promote their cause. It is there he also meets Lina’s daughter Carla AKA the love interest. Danny’s commitment to hate and bigotry is starting to crumble when he and his friends vandalize a synagogue. As he sees his friends desecrate the Torah, something inside him snaps. He starts to doubt everything he’s believed in. His most tightly guarded secret is also starting to leak out as well. A New York Times reporter has been looking into his past and sets up an interview with him. They get together at a coffee shop and towards the end, the reporter drops the bomb. He knows he is Jewish and threatens to expose him, Danny doesn’t take this lightly as he pulls out a gun and threatens to kill himself if he prints the story.
Danny’s double life can’t last for much longer as his mind is constantly at war with itself. The Nazi rhetoric and propaganda he has been spouting no longer rings true, but like in the mafia, it’s hard to just walk away from it all. We come to a climax that is both tragic and life-affirming. Danny’s final action to rid himself of the hate comes with a price, and he is willing to pay it. Does this atone for all of the pain and suffering he has caused?. “The Believer” is a great film and can be seen for free if you have Amazon Prime.