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"The Believer"

Directed by Henry Bean.
Written by Henry Bean. 
Starring Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix and Billy Zane.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  6/16/02


Even during the summer, there are plenty of artsy flicks to choose from, especially here in San, I took in the 2001 anti-Semitic thriller “The Believer” this weekend.

Shockingly similar to the 1998 thriller “American History X”, “The Believer” stars Ryan Gosling (recently in “Murder by Numbers”) as a white male that is a fascist.  Although he dislikes most of the minorities in New York City—blacks, Asians, what have you—he REALLY hates Jews.  In fact, he goes out of his way to verbally and physically abuse Jewish citizens throughout the city, and by wearing Nazi t-shirts and SS lapels on his jacket, Danny (Gosling) is a 27-year-old guy that isn’t making too many Jewish friends right now.  All of this is made worse when an independent fascist group led by a wild-haired leader (Billy Zane) hires Danny to preach the knowledge of the movement to other skinheads in the area.  You think that’s tough?  Try doing it when you are a Jew Danny happens to be.

Shot on some sort of grainy video or 16-to-35 mm film conversion, “The Believer” has grit going for it and a strong performance from Gosling...although, nothing on the level that Ed Norton brought in “American History X”, a scary performance highlighted by some of the worst violence I’ve seen in a film in a while.  While entertaining, I think I would have gotten much more out of why Danny hates his Jewish upbringing so much had I been Jewish, which I am decidedly not.  The textured, intelligent arguments presented by writer/director Henry Bean seem to mean a lot more than they really should, but how would I know?  There are a couple of deep conversations about the Torah, so deep that they seem to isolate anyone that knows nothing about it.

The other big problem is the love interest, played here with recklessly shallow abandon by Summer Phoenix.  Phoenix is hot and seems to be completely incapable of closing her mouth when she is not talking.  But, everything else about her performance sucks, and only a small part of that is her role as written.  Her line delivery, lack of body english and unexplainable tendency to let her eyes wander during other actors’ monologues all hurt this performance, and I am hopeful that she watches her Oscar-nominated brother Joaquin act at some point to learn how.

In a summer where (as usual) you can turn your brain off at will during a trip to the movies, “The Believer” brings more intellectual baggage to the table.  And, at 98 minutes, I won’t take you long to sit through.  A good film that gets better if you know even a little bit about Judaism.

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09