“Just take a look at the greatest Jewish minds ever. Marx, Freud, Einstein. What have they given us? Communism, infantile sexuality, and the atom bomb.”
— Daniel Balint (Ryan Gosling)
You only have to look at Ryan Gosling’s expression in the picture above to gain a sense of his character’s sadistic ways. Gosling gives an intense performance as Danny Balint, a leader of a neo-Nazi movement, whose desire is to finish what Hitler started. However, there’s just one problem stopping him… He’s a Jew himself.
Yes, Danny is a member of Judaism, the very religion that he despises, which means he is also at war with himself. He proudly wears a bright-red shirt with a swastika walking down the streets of his neighbourhood, overwhelmed with Jewish self-hatred, rebelling against his true roots.
In the opening scene he intimidates a young Jewish student wearing a yarmulke who is trying to read on the bus. He then follows him into the street, knocks the book out of his hands, and proceeds to viciously beats him. Soon enough, though, Danny starts taking offence to anti-Semitist remarks from the members within his own hate group, which raises the issue of identity within his own mind.
As interesting as this premise is, the screenplay is the movie’s main downfall as it is lacking in any serious motivation for Daniel’s violent actions towards his own religion. We see him challenging the traditional laws of Judaism in a couple of short flashbacks, but nothing is ever explained beyond that. What, for example, has motivated him to the extremity of becoming a self-hating Jew? Mid-way through the film, his mood shifts constantly from one extreme to the next and we never really get an answer concerning the real reasons behind this. The film suffers considerably as a result.
Apart from Gosling, the rest of the cast hardly do anything to sustain interest beyond the extremity of the premise, either. In the end, The Believer may have an interesting and controversial idea at base (which, by the way, was based upon a real-life story) but that isn’t to say it’s necessarily compelling viewing. Frustratingly, the film comes across as pretty shallow and forgettable.