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The Believer

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Believer

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix
Director: Henry Bean
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Billy Zane, Theresa Russell, A.D. Miles

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Opening with the Camus quote, "I hate and I love. Who can tell me why?" Henry Bean's provocative and chilling THE BELIEVER explores the meaning of both hate and love. An extremely controversial film, it won the Grand Jury award at the 2001 Sundance film festival but then was unable to get a distributor, since the studios found its subject too hot to handle.

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Nazi skinhead named Danny who is on such a power trip of intense hatred that you vicariously and disturbingly experience his adrenaline rush. It is a brilliant performance and far surpasses the acting in his most recent picture, MURDER BY NUMBERS, in which he played one of the two baby-faced killers. A forklift operator at a Big Boy's warehouse in Queens, Danny is a highly intelligent and frighteningly violent guy who wears a bright red Nazi shirt with a large swastika. The shirt, in effect, says, "Please kick me so I can annihilate you."

Danny, as we see in flashback, has always been a rabble-rouser and a blasphemer. As a young teen in his Jewish religion class, he repeatedly challenged God to kill him. Other than beating up local Jews, Danny doesn't have a suitable outlet for his emotions until he hooks up with a local Fascist organization run by Curtis (Billy Zane) and Lina (Theresa Russell), a middle class couple. Curtis, much to Danny's dismay, rejects anti-Semitism, albeit strictly on pragmatic grounds, since Hitler lost. Curtis reasons that they "don't want Germany all over again." Danny disagrees, arguing, "Isn't that what we want -- Germany all over again but done right this time?"

Theresa Russell (BLACK WIDOW), rarely seen anymore, is terrific as Lina, a woman who would happily walk over her mother's and her grandmother's graves if it would advance her agenda. With coldly penetrating eyes, she asks Danny her key question, "Do you just want to kill Jews, or do you have something larger in mind?"

In a script filled with thoughts to ponder, the most thought provoking scene is set at a big fundraiser. As the reactionary rich drink their expensive white wine and get their fat checkbooks ready, Danny delivers a speech that infuriates them all.

THE BELIEVER is that rare film that earns a most unusual compliment -- I wish were it longer. Danny is fully developed, but the supporting characters, especially Curtis, Lina and Lina's daughter, Carla (Summer Phoenix), were all so fascinating that I wanted to know more about their motivations and backgrounds.

THE BELIEVER runs 1:38. It is rated R for "strong violence, language and some sexual content," and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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