Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Believer 2001

I have always raved about Ryan Gosling's acting. In previous posts about Blue Valentine and Drive, I have had difficulty in toning down my admiration for this brilliant performer and his ability to steal a scene, sometimes with just his expressions and stance. Having seen pretty much all his films since Remember the Titans (2000), I was on a mission to catch the only three I have missed - and today, I finally caught The Believer, one of his earliest and most controversial works.

Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, the film follows Daniel Balint, a young Orthodox-Jew-turned-Neo-Nazi, who, in his determination to kill Jews, joins fascist groups, gathers support from other believers of the 'mission' and somewhere along the way, is confronted by the stark contradiction of his identity against his philosophy. Underneath all his so-called convictions, lies the fear of exposure: no one in his new-found circle of supporters knows that he, himself, is actually a Jew. He is hounded by this dilemma and the loopholes in his belief system. He is intelligent enough to question his religion - but also, intelligent enough to question his hatred. This is his undoing.

Beautifully shot with hand-held cameras on high-sensitivity film, there is a documentary feel about the visuals, which works very well considering the story is loosely based on Daniel Burros, a real-life Jewish member of the American Nazi Party in the 1960s, who shot himself hours after his Jewish identity was made public by a New York Times reporter. The direction, too, is very strong - but I feel that the film is let down by a loose script. There isn't a lot of focus on the motivation of the characters, which is an essential ingredient when the subject matter is this disturbing. Films like A Clockwork Orange (1971), American History X (1998) and, more recently, This is England (2006), have scripts far more compelling - though, The Believer did remind me of all three (hence, the mentions). As with Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008), I never actually engaged with the story through the entirety of this film, which is a shame because it could have been so much more powerful than it was.

Having said all that, there isn't a single scene where I feel that Ryan Gosling could have done better. The script may not have made Daniel Balint's motivations very clear, but both his comfort and conflict with his convictions were given life on Gosling's face. With very subtle looks, smiles, frowns, gestures and tones, Balint's entire persona is alive on screen. It is extraordinary that this was Gosling's first major role and even more shocking that he was barely out of his teens when he did this film. His acting is art-in-motion - and truly remarkable.

An interesting film, which could have been vastly improved with better characterisations, but is more than ably carried off with a powerhouse performance by its lead.

No comments:

Post a Comment