Danny Balint (Gosling) leads a double life. By day he is a neo-Nazi skinhead, complete with braces, combat boots, and a thirst for anti-Semitic violence. By night he reads the Torah and teaches Hebrew. His Jewish friends think that his fashion choices are simply part of some wayward street style, while his neo-Nazi collaborators have no inkling that one of their must trusted young leaders is actually Jewish. Is he a spy, is he schizophrenic, or is it really possible to be two opposites at once?
Director Henry Bean's first feature is an awe-inspiring film. From its violent opening, in which Danny harasses and beats a Jewish student, to its dramatic conclusion, it's the kind of ferociously committed film that leaves you with more questions than answers. Is Danny trying to provoke God? Does he need to be hated? Or does he truly believe (and want to act out) his statement that "the worse the Jews are treated, the stronger they become".
The acting is superb, with the little-known Ryan Gosling taking on a complex and difficult role with ease. But the real plaudits belong to Bean's script, which trawls through philosophical questions about the nature of binary oppositions - good and evil, love and hate, Semitic and anti-Semitic - without once losing its dynamic momentum.
Making "American History X" look like a shallow MTV commercial, "TheBeliever" is first class film-making. Deconstructing the politics of hate, the neo-Nazi movement's obsession with racial purity and the soil, and brave enough even to confront the issue of the Holocaust survivors, Bean's film is a late contender for one of the best films of the year - an intellectually breathtaking, profoundly moving film.