First off, this film was originally scheduled for release
on in September of 2001, but was one of the many films
postponed due to the attacks on the WTC. The catch
is--it was scheduled for release on cable...that's right,
Showtime was going to air the film, after it won the Grand
Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Where else
could such a controversial film receive such publicity and
praise but on Showtime or HBO? They revel in
The film is based on the true story of white supremacist
Danny Burros, who was revealed by the New York Times in
the 1960's to be Jewish. He promptly killed himself
the same day. Both names and events are changed in
this film, but the tragedy of the real life scenario is
all the more tragic in this film adaptation, which goes
along with "American History X" as a sterling
example of the narrow mindedness and idiocy involved in
the white supremacy movements.
Ryan Gosling is Danny Balint, a young Jewish boy in New
York City who is struggling with his beliefs and ideals.
Though he feels the need to indulge in his rich heritage,
he can't help but be drawn into a counter culture that
pretty much pisses on everything he and his family are.
The retelling of this true life incident is quite accurate
and does not stray too far from the actual events which
transpired. I had never heard of this incident
before I watched "The Believer", but did some
research afterwards and found much of it too be supremely
Like "American History X", this film contains
some scenes that are very controversial and challenging,
though they are in the film for the sole purpose of
discouraging the cause of white supremacy. Ryan
Gosling, who I absolutely loathed in "Murder By
Numbers", gives a stellar performance as the title
character, and Summer Phoenix shows that acting just runs
in her family, because she lights up the screen throughout.
Supporting characters like Theresa Russell and Billy Zane,
add depth and dimension to the film, along with giving us
some familiar faces to look at from time to time.
First time director Henry Bean does a superb job of
examining the turmoil and confusion of the boy, as well as
giving both sides of his life equal treatment and equal
importance. The film is never slow going and is
always posing some sort of moral question or challenge,
which is what I enjoyed the most. I like going to
the theatre to be challenge, and I especially like it when
what could have been just another TV movie becomes a
contender for many of the top awards in Hollywood.
If only Showtime and HBO would take chances on more of
their 'original' films and release them shortly in
theatres, then maybe a classic film like last year's
"Wit" could have received more recognition.
"The Believer" is a powerful piece of cinema,
featuring a dazzling, Oscar nomination worthy, performance
from Ryan Gosling, and brilliant direction from the
talented Henry Bean. Though it is not quite as
powerful and awe inspiring as "American History
X", it delivers on numerous levels and really makes
you think when you leave the theatre. That's what
cinema is all about.