F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 15, 2014)

15 08 2014

The BelieverIt seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when Ryan Gosling was not a movie star.  Plenty of people acknowledge his Mickey Mouse Club days with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, just as others recognize how hilarious he is in “Remember the Titans.”   But most seem to think that he just came out of nowhere, like a gift from God, to steal their hearts in 2004’s “The Notebook.”

In actuality, though, Gosling first got his moment in the spotlight as leading man from 2001’s “The Believer.”  The performance may well be the polar opposite of his stoic characters in “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.”  As Danny Balint, a self-loathing Jew who turns from his upbringing to join a radical neo-Nazi cell in New York, Gosling absolutely electrifies the screen as he futilely struggles to suppress memories of his background in order to commit heinous deeds.

But “The Believer” is not my choice for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” simply because it is a great performance piece for Gosling.  Though he does steal the show, Gosling is hardly all the film has to offer.  “The Believer” may not quite rival “American History X,” another similar film about neo-Nazis, but it’s still a powerful examination of radicalism on both the personal and the political levels.

Writer/director Henry Bean satisfyingly delves into the psychology of Danny, looking at what might explain his volatile and unpredictable behavior.  There’s never one definitive answer, though, and the only person that seems to frustrate is Danny himself.  He’s a complete wild card, vacillating constantly between his desires to embrace the Jewish community that brought him up and his impulse to eradicate that same group altogether.  Maybe Gosling, now Mr. Strong and Silent, ought to watch “The Believer” now to bring some of the turmoil and conflict back to his work.

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