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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Towards the end of THE BELIEVER, I mused on the similarity of the film to the 1975 screen production of THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH starring Maximilian Schell. In the latter, Schell stars as a reclusive, wealthy, Jewish, Manhattan industrialist, Arthur Goldman, who (apparently) has used his connections and financial resources to create the fiction that he's a former Nazi prison commandant, a fabrication (apparently) leaked to the Israelis. Without knowing this beforehand, It comes as a surprise to the viewers and Goldman's associates, but not to Arthur himself, when he's kidnapped (as was Adolf Eichmann) and removed to Israel to stand trial as a war criminal - on display in a glass booth wearing full Nazi regalia. Schell is stunningly powerful as the concentration camp survivor who goes to extremes to exorcise his personal guilt at having outlived the Holocaust, and what he sees as the collective guilt of his people for not fighting back.
In THE BELIEVER, Ryan Gosling is Danny, an incredibly intelligent, literate and articulate 22-year old who spends his days as a neo-Nazi skinhead preaching hatred and expressing the desire to kill Jews. His activities run the full gamut from planting bombs with a group of like-minded, mindless thugs, to fund raising in a suit and tie for an upscale Fascist organization. The thing is, you see, Danny is himself a Jew with deep emotional ties to his heritage.
It's perhaps an over-simplification to say that Danny hates Jews. Rather, he hates the message that Orthodox Jews preach, i.e. that Jews are but the pawns of God and must be submissive to His will - even to the point of abject pacifism in the face of the most extreme persecution. Danny is not, nor has ever been, submissive to his religion and its appointed teachers. He doesn't loathe his Jewish self so much as the thought that his religion automatically makes him a submissive creature. Basically, he wants the Chosen People to fight back. This is evident early on as he savagely beats a meek, yarmulke-wearing teenage boy while screaming, "Hit me! Hit me!" Moreover, he figuratively shakes his fist at God, daring Him to strike him dead for his rebellion.
At one point, Danny asserts that the Jews are naturally a wandering people thriving on the prejudice they encounter, and that the Israeli's have risen above their Jewishness because they now have a land to call home. Since the Israeli's are aggressively militant in their own defense, it seems to me that Danny might just as well be a staunch Zionist. Why he isn't is a mystery. But, no matter, because Gosling, like Schell, is stunning as a guilt-ridden and psychologically tortured individual seeking inner peace. While the film's conclusion is the ambiguous sort that invites extended coffee house discussion, it's evident that Danny goes to an extreme to find it. And the very last dialog that is heard, "There's nothing up there", leaves an aftertaste of the nihilism that Danny suspects is true.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 14 February 2012
This is one that I had been meaning to get around to for some time. It deals with the thorny issue of the Jewish Nazi; whilst it sounds like an oxymoron it is similar to the working class Tory (or supporting Capitalism) etc. Further it is not too much of a stretch to understand how people can reject their religion especially when theology leaves so much unanswered and instead expects `blind faith' to be the mortar that holds all the other stuff together.

Ryan Gosling plays Danny Balint who is a skinhead in modern day America with a penchant for wearing a swastika on his t-shirt (it wasn't even acceptable in punk). He has rejected the Torah from an early stage and has done so by questioning what it asks a Jew to do, be and believe. His outbursts as a youth (seen in flashback) are as reasonable as a Roman Catholic questioning the belief in transubstantiation, but as with a Priest a Rabbi just aint having any of it - so he gets kicked out. Such treatment of a brilliant scholar only adds to the feeling of both alienation and anomie. Thus leaving a gap that needs to be fulfilled and so Nazi dogma fills the void. This technically makes him self hating.

Enough of the religious stuff; he joins a Neo-Nazi group headed up by Billy Zane as a be wigged Curtis Zampf. He not only wants to teach anti-Semitism but declares he wants to kill a Jew. Thus the scene is set for his journey into self discovery and a kind of rude awakening and some violence but not too much.

As a film it holds together fairly well but mostly because of the blistering diatribes from Gosling as Danny, who comes across as very believable. There is some love interest with some bedroom scenes seemingly shoe horned into the plot. There is some violence and lessons in how not to set explosives. There is also a bit of s and m and a lot of religious theorizing and middle class justification of racism.

This is not a bad film but it also is not one of those that changes your world view. It was made on such a small budget that they could not afford licences for the location filming, which will explain the varying levels of quality through out. Still director Henry Bean has made a thought provoking film that is hard to categorize, it is based on the true story of a member of the KKK who was outed as a Jew in the 1960's. All in all not a bad effort but the ending may be disappointing for some. If you like your films slightly quirky and are not afraid to deal with uncomfortable subjects then this may well be for you.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 April 2014
'The Believer' is an acclaimed independent movie, and Ryan Gosling's first big acting role on the silver screen. He stars as a self hating Jewish man who has developed a cruel view on the world he lives in. It was an impressive first lead in film, and Ryan excels at playing the articulate skin head with anti-semitic views. The passion he displays for someone so young is quite extraordinary. but alas 'The Believer' is one of his least appealing movies.

I thought that the story was mediocre, and failed to leave behind any explanation in order to help the audience understand the self struggle of the central character and why he is like he is. Although it is based on a true story, I found a lot of it to be rather unbelievable. Racism is always a difficult subject to tackle, and the movie centers almost entirely around Ryan's character and the people he associates with. He becomes involved with various groups who only fuel the anger and hatred between each other more, and mainly towards the Jews.

'The Believer' serves as little more than a reminder of Ryan Gosling's early acting ability, and it was performances like this which paved the way for a high profile career in Hollywood, but far better things were to come. One for Ryan Gosling fans only - he made the film watchable.
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on 14 November 2011
I have to agree with Ashtarcommand; what a very strange film. And what is everyone else going on about?! There is no real explanation of why an apparently intelligent young Jewish man should revolt against his religion, culture and people to the extent he starts consorting with some pretty dopey neo-nazi types and wants to start killing other Jews. And then he's so clear in his new ideals that he gets upset at his new mates despoiling the Torah when they go in to blow up a synagogue!! So he takes a copy home and then starts teaching his neo-nazi girlfriend all about it. Oh, along the way one of his new found buddies discovers he's a Jew, but neglects to tell anybody else for some unknown reason. And then he starts going to synagogue again with his old school friends while still plotting to blow them up!!!!!!!!! Extremely mixed up.
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Although graphic to watch in places this film is highly deserving of any praise it receives. It deals with a controversial subject remarkably well and with real power. It also comes at it from a new angle, that of the Jewish Nazi, which gives it that extra edginess. I have rarely seen a film that left me thinking of it's issues so long and recommending it to so many people.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 14 November 2007
I had seen the Believer at the cinema, and have recently seen it again in DVD. This movie had left a strong impression on me, and the feeling has been confirmed after watching it again.
It is the story (inspired by the true story of a certain Daniel Burros) of a young Neo-Nazi Jew taken in the net of contradictions between his religion/roots and his antisemitic ideology, between the quest for meaning and self-hatred. One might have feared clichés and simplistic psychology, but none of these in that movie. The actor (whose performance some newspapers rightly compared to De Niro's in Taxi Driver) perfectly incarnates this young man undergoing a metaphysicial crisis -- a rebel rejecting his roots and religion, but prisioner, despite himself, of his own identity, which will constantly catch him up.
Metaphysical questioning and very interesting reflexions on judaism makes this movie powerful, thought-provoking and excellent (careful though : several violent scenes).
The non-manicheistic, quite existentialist end brings more questions than answers and illustrates the inner questioning and complex / yet coherent psychology of Daniel, the protagonist.

In short, an intense and powerful movie, that I strongly recommend. Let me quote the words of Mr Maurice Samuel (a Jewish author) which echo Daniel's own questioning and self-destructive behaviour :

". . . we Jews,
the destroyers, will remain the destroyer forever. . . nothing that the
Gentiles will do will meet our needs and demands".

When it was released, the Believer didn't find a film distributor in USA, and remained confidential there -- given the anti-Hollywood treatment of the subject, this is no surprise. Yet the film was released in various European countries and Israel as well. It won the Grand Jury Prize in Sundance Festival in 2001.
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on 11 December 2010
Apparently I didn't get it, since all the other reviews are so glowing. Personally, I found "The Believer" to be boring, stereotyped and incomprehensible. A couple of bizarre sex scenes have been thrown in for good measure, naturally starring a twenty-something woman.

The main character, one Daniel Baliant, is a self-hating Orthodox Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi. All the usual Nazi stereotypes are there: skinheads, the fight between Daniel and The Big Tattooed Guy at the secret Nazi camp, the fat stupid Nazi, the crazy paranoid Nazi, etc. There is even a computer nerd Nazi. Since Daniel is an educated intellectual type of person, it's unclear why he would hang out with underclass skinheads of this sort. Nor is it clear why the "respectable" fascist front group recruits a crazy skinhead and suspected terrorist as a fund-raising speaker. In other words: the plot is very illogical! And no, it's not *really* based on a true story. Finally, the anti-Semitic speeches of the main character are meaningless rants. I fail to see why other customer reviewers found them so disturbing. Neither intellectual nor underclass Nazis sound like this.

Occasionally, "The Believer" does hint at a deeper message: Baliant seems to be a sceptic or atheist who argued with his Jewish teachers already in school, he seems to reject Judaism because the Jews went like lambs to the slaughter during the Holocaust, hence proving their weakness, and there are some kind of Kabbalistic hints which I didn't understand. There is also a tension between Danny and his equally Nazi girlfriend, who seems to be fascinated by Judaism and perhaps thinks of converting. However, the movie never really follows up on any of this. The end is also inconclusive. Does God forgive Danny and take him to Heaven? Does he end up in Hell? Is the message really atheist? No idea.

Maybe people who studied the Zohar for twenty years can grasp the esoteric message of "The Believer". I didn't. I was just bored.

PS. What *is* the difference between a kadish and a kiddush?
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on 28 March 2006
This film is raw, gritty and powerful, but more than that it is so rough around the edges that you can't tell at times whether it's a documentary or a film. This film is Oscar material, Ryan Goslings performance is so intense and conflicted that he sincerely deserved an Oscar for his excellent effort in this film.

All the actors do a good job in this film (though it may have been interesting to see more conversing between Billy Zane and Ryan Goslings character). Theresa Russel reminded me of my Right-wing teachers at Primary school - very intimidating.

The Director really did a superb job here and created alot of empathy (and sympathy) for Ryan Gosling's character. Like Tim Roth's character in Made in Britain he is an intellectual, who feels shackled by society and Liberalism and the only way he can stand against is by being part of the Right-wing and opposing the State.

I felt this film shed alot of light on Judaism and actually gave me a better understanding of it (and it wasn't done in a preachy manner).

An excellent film, worthy of five stars and well worth a watch for those who like their films more raw than the usual Hollywood fare.
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on 15 November 2013
Its a strong film on a powerful and tough topic to play out. I love Ryan Gosling which is the main reason I bought this film but even without my love for Gosling its still a solid movie on its own. Buy it if you enjoyed American History X. I must add it has quite a sad ending.
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on 9 April 2014
a very odd film even for a die-hard ryan gosling fan the storyline seems all over the place and i just can't possibly put myself in the characters shoes but it's based on a true story. Educational at best about racism and confliction of interest in religion
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