Danny (Ryan Gosling) is a proud neo-Nazi who is convinced the only way forward to solving society's ills as he sees them is violent response. To this end, he will for example follow a Jew on the train, initmidate him, and when the young man tries to get away, beat him up. When Danny gets involved with a fascist couple - Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane) and Lina Moebius (Theresa Russell) - they hope to make him a mouthpiece for their non-racist strain of extreme right wing ideology, but for him you cannot separate race from this belief system. For you see, Danny was born and raised a Jew himself...
Depicting far right views on screen is always a tricky propostion, and nowhere as easy as a lot of filmmakers who attempt to tackle them in fiction would care to admit. And when they make their lead character a neo-Nazi, overwrought melodrama seems to be the way to go as regards offering them a story with which to teach them a lesson. Sadly, although The Believer recieved awards for its bravery in taking on one of the least palatable subjects, writer and director Henry Bean was not able to escape the pitfalls, even if he did display integrity in his approach.
Funnily enough, the film was based on a true story of a real-life Ku Klux Klan member in the sixties who turned out to have been Jewish, but perhaps Bean would have been better sticking to the facts of that case instead of inventing a new tale to examine the conscience of such a man. In his place is the wearisomely hypocritical, humourlessly pompous Danny, who even as unsympathetic characters go is a chore to be around, or at least sit through his supposedly articulate but actually ill-thought out, hate-filled rants. In a forgivable cliché, it turns out that the person Danny hates most is himself.
With the small group of Neo-Nazis he finds, Danny plans assassinations and terrorist attacks by day, with his comrades unaware of his true faith, although judging by the amount of times he goes on about the Jews it's a wonder they don't twig; he's quite the expert. Racial identity is an obsession with him, and when a reporter confronts him in an interview that he might not be all he appears to be, it's clear he is labouring under a state of denial that he gradually wakes up from throughout the course of the film.
Bean's problem doesn't seem to be with the far right, indeed he offers few solutions to the issues he raises with them, no, what he really has problems with is his perception of the victimhood of the Jewish mindset, which he, like his main character, sees as weakening their status in the world. The Holocaust is mentioned, with Danny denying the deniers as he has to have this atrocity behind his thinking to fuel his anger at the way his race were beaten down during World War II - ill-advised "flashbacks" see Danny as both Nazi soldier and Jewish prisoner. He doesn't recognise that Judaism survived and endured, and that's what makes Danny, and Bean for that matter, so frustrating: they even get caught up in the rules of the religion which infuriate them. At least Bean has respect where his protagonist does not, but Danny is something of a cartoonish figure, and this film is obviously such a personal project that it is a source of disappointment that it doesn't succeed where you want it to. I simply didn't believe it. Music by Joel Diamond.