Mesmerizing, powerful, and important; these are the words that are slapped onto film posters and inserted into trailers time and time again. Fortunately, for the Believer, those words don’t lie. The film is everything it’s advertised to be, perhaps even exceeding its hype. Henry Bean directs a scorching film, and Ryan Gosling gives us an unfiltered, raw performance.
Henry Bean’s direction is gritty, aggressive and very appropriately matches the tone of the main protagonist, Daniel, who is a Jewish young man that has developed a violent anti-Semitic view of the world. Bean uses hand-held cameras to capture a realistic tone, incorporates flashbacks to dig deeper into the already fully-realized character of Daniel, and also throws in Daniel’s dreams to insert the audience underneath his skin. Even the score of the film is angry, as drums and repetitive numbing sounds are used to intensify controversy.
Daniel is such a rich and interesting person, and Ryan Gosling fills the character in with a performance that is made of fiery passion. Gosling is hypnotizing, as he brilliantly reasons his hate against the Jews, against his own kind. We also feel for him, as he is in a constant struggle to define his faith. He depicts Daniel as brilliance trapped in a close-minded cage of Antisemitism. Every word flaming out of Gosling’s mouth is sincere, and every action he takes is unfiltered. We are captivated by the delivery of his ideas that some may flirt with the dangers of being convinced, and his quiet moments, as he struggles with his faith, is just as powerful. He’s incredible in Half-Nelson and Blue Valentine, but he is purely amazing in the Believer.
When we see Daniel for the first time, we think that he’s the typical skinhead, but his character’s complexity is discovered to be more than that. Identity is made up of two essential pillars, the part we control and the part we’re born into, and Daniel is trying to amend the latter. The film is a deep character study of a young Jewish man’s hatred for his own people. It also extends into what we believe in and why. These controversies are timelessly universal, and this film projects them through a viewpoint of hatred. It just doesn’t show a man’s hatred, it exposes the audience to what creates the hate.
Some may turn their backs on this film because of the violence, and all the controversial subjects discussed within the film; however, that is why the film is essential. The controversy is not taboo; the film is not mindless fun, but a thought-provoking piece.
Another aspect of the film that might bother audiences is that it’s never explained directly as to why Daniel hates Jews so much.
As far as the direction goes, most of it is fine, but some editing choices are slightly messy, for example, the use of slow motion makes some scenes look awkward. In addition, the ending of the film may be too ambiguous, perhaps even offensive, for some viewers to digest.
American History X
This is England
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