The Believer falls into that weird, tiny category of films that, because nobody is interested in distributing them theatrically at first, wind up going straight to cable – and then, a year later, get that limited theatrical release after all. A hit at the 2001 Sundance Festival, The Believer tells the story – allegedly based on fact – of Danny (Ryan Gosling, hot star of the near future), a young Jewish man who inexplicably becomes a Neo-Nazi.
It sounds like an incendiary subject, but the film uses this setup primarily to examine what it means to be Jewish. I'm not Jewish, so a lot of the religious esoterica went over my head. It's not confusing, per se, but it did make me think, "This seems to be made primarily for a Jewish audience."
Gosling puts in an impressive performance, however, even if the story ultimately falls flat. You never really know – nor is writer/director Bean interested in telling you – just why Danny, a brilliant if difficult young student in his Hebrew classes, decides to turn his back on his culture and become a Jew-bashing skinhead, especially as his newfound identity has him more obsessed with his religion than ever. Is he self-loathing? If so, then why? Such extreme behavior can't just be left unexplained, and since Danny's identity crisis is at the heart of the whole story, this lack of crucial exposition renders the film essentially useless – except as a devil's advocate in a long discussion about Judaism. For those truly curious about the religion, it does offer some food for thought.