The Believer Review
Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling) has become one of the most articulate representatives of the New York neo-nazi movement so much so that the political branch of the movement, led by Lina Moebius (Theresa Russell) and Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane), are trying to recruit him to work for them. He's perfect material for a party struggling for prominence - he's young, intelligent, charismatic but also Jewish. As time goes on Danny finds it more and more difficult to mask this from his new found friends and more importantly from himself. The hate of his Jewish ancestry is strong yet despite his hateful and violent exterior, Danny is still unable to delete it from his life. Is it all as stupid as it seemed to him when he was a young teenager?
Although on paper this may seem too similar to American History X, there is little in common between the two films bar some of the subject matter. Where AMX failed so dramatically, The Believer offers the exact opposite. Based on the true story from the 60s of a Jewish man who was a member of the KKK, this film transposes the story into a modern setting and uses documentary-like cinematography to blur the line between fiction and reality. Lovable heroes and political correctness are swept aside in favour of the story telling which Bean seems to control quite well despite this being his first feature film. Bean made a fantastic move by casting Gosling as Danny - his sole performance drives the film from start to finish in a very ambiguous role. Despite being filmed on a micro-budget, the film looks incredibly good thanks to clever editing and smart camera work.
On the negative side, some of the side characters seem quite underdeveloped at times and the film does seem to meander a little at times although that may have been to make it more documentary like. The film's subject matter could easily have caused it to fall into caricature but Bean does well to avoid that pitfall and gives us an excellent début.
Image:Given that Bean for budgetary and stylistic reasons chose to film on very sensitive stock, the image is quite grainy but that is unavoidable given the source material. Beyond that there are occasional white specks but nothing out of the ordinary and no real print damage. The transfer itself has been competently handled and anamorphically enhanced meaning that this is as good as the film is likely to look on DVD. A good effort.
Sound:Given the budget and the style, the soundtrack is merely 2.0 stereo which is fine - the voices are clear and the music sounds good too. No quibbles there and no need for a 5.1 remix.
the Menus:Short excerpt of the film play in the background whilst we get to hear a part of the soundtrack on top. A good effort although
Extras:We get the usual theatrical trailer (this one being the US one) which is presented anamorphically but looks incredibly rough compared to the film. We also get a worthwhile extra in the shape of a 30 minute long featurette produced by the Sundance Channel. Although the featurette starts as a presentation of the film by the crew and cast, it swiftly becomes an interesting analysis of the film as a whole with discussion of the casting choices, the screenplay and the choice of film stock. It then ends with an interesting masterclass looking at a pivotal scene in the movie and how they worked on it. Interestingly Bean had originally shot a short version of this film with difference actors and excerpts are shown in the featurette but sadly this wasn't included on the DVD - a bit of a missed opportuinity as I can't see the film getting any better exposure than here. It remains that this is a very good inclusion to the DVD but best not watched until you've seen the movie as there are some spoilers scattered throughout the featurette.
Conclusions:Despite the potentially sensationalist nature of the subject, the film works very well within it's low budget and is well worth investigating. The sole extra is a very good addition and in part makes up for the absence of a commentary.