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