The Believer (review)

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The Believer was the toast of Sundance last winter, winner of the Grand Jury Prize (and also recipient of the Gold St. George at this year’s Moscow International Film Festival). But no distributor would touch it. Why? Because it’s a powerful, inflammatory film about religion that dares to question an ancient faith, and about hatred that offers no easy, comfortable resolution. It is shocking, yes, a disturbing tale, based on a true story, of a neo-Nazi skinhead who is also a Jew. But why is a film like The Believer, one that is intellectually and emotionally shocking, far less acceptable to the Hollywood mainstream than one that is shocking in the depths of crudity it achieves? Why are the likes of Tomcats and Freddy Got Fingered acceptable and embraced by the powers that be in Hollywood, and The Believer ignored? You can decide for yourself, because Showtime has picked up this important film, and it’s airing this month. You can decide which is the bigger crime: Hollywood’s lack of faith in mainstream audiences to handle smart, serious film, or the fact that 21-year-old Ryan Gosling cannot be eligible for an Oscar this year because his complicated performance is appearing first on television. Surely, his portrayal of Danny Balint, whose intellectual problems with the religion he was born into turn into rabid self-hatred, who trembles onscreen with equal measures of reverence and anger toward Jews and Judaism, who has the single most commanding moment onscreen this year, when he snaps a Nazi salute immediately after donning a prayer shawl… surely we will not see a more provocative performance by an actor of any age this year. But Gosling won’t play on a big screen, and you won’t see this film in a movie theater, because Hollywood doesn’t think you’re smart enough to handle it.

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