The Believer

Difficult though it may be to believe, the premise of writer-director Henry Bean's controversial examination of extreme anti-Semitism is rooted in realty. In 1965, a 28-year-old, high-ranking KKK member named Daniel Burros made good on his promise to kill himself if the New York Times reporter who'd been looking into his past revealed that Burros was, in...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Difficult though it may be to believe, the premise of writer-director Henry Bean's controversial examination of extreme anti-Semitism is rooted in realty. In 1965, a 28-year-old, high-ranking KKK member named Daniel Burros made good on his promise to kill himself if the New York Times reporter who'd been looking into his past revealed that Burros was, in fact, Jewish. Like many commentators at the time, writer-director Henry Bean reads Burros's disturbing story as an extreme case of so-called "Jewish self-hatred," and attempts to explore this phenomenon through the deeply conflicted mind of a fictitious, former Yeshiva student from Queens, NY. The titular "believer," whose spiritual path takes a similarly dark detour, Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling) is a rabidly anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi skinhead whose unusual intelligence and articulate hate-speak catch the attention of neo-Fascist Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane) and his colleague, Lina Moebius (Theresa Russell). Curtis and Lina would like to put a friendlier, less-explicitly anti-Semitic face on their nascent political party, but appreciate the appeal of a magnetic young speaker like Danny. Hardly suspecting that their great white hope is actually a Jew himself, they attempt to draw him into their organization, while Lina's masochistic daughter, Carla (Summer Phoenix), lures him into her bed. Danny, meanwhile, has more immediate plans: He and his skinhead cohorts are plotting to assassinate prominent Jews and blow up synagogues. But the closer Danny gets to fulfilling his murderous fantasies, the more strongly he feels the primal pull of the Torah, the sacred text which he can rebuke but never really escape. Danny's carefully written diatribes are indeed appalling, but they're also extremely perceptive about the irrational nature of anti-Semitism. Even more troubling is the fact that Danny's anger toward his own people articulates concerns that are the subject of uneasy debate in the Jewish community: Did Europe's Jews walk passively into the gas chambers? How much of Jewish identity is predicated on notions of victimhood? But what might have stood as a valid, albeit twisted, act of self-interrogation is undermined by Danny's homicidal psychosis and his hatred of all minorities, particularly blacks. In the end, his character seems less of a self-critical Jew than a self-destructive, somewhat absurdly paranoid schizophrenic. Flawed but undeniably provocative and brilliantly acted by Gosling, Bean's complex film was awarded the grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, but failed to secure a distributor after the Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed reservations. It was eventually broadcast by the Showtime cable network before receiving a limited theatrical release.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Difficult though it may be to believe, the premise of writer-director Henry Bean's controversial examination of extreme anti-Semitism is rooted in realty. In 1965, a 28-year-old, high-ranking KKK member named Daniel Burros made good on his promise to kill… (more)

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