“The Believer” (2001) dir. Henry Bean

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“The Believer” is one of the best (and most controversial) films of the last decade and contains one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen. Forget what you think you know about Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s performance in “The Believer” is one of the most ferocious acting performances I’ve ever seen.

Based on a true story and brilliantly written and directed by Henry Bean, Gosling stars as Daniel Balint, a rising star in a neo-Nazi skinhead group who has a major problem… Balint is an Orthodox Jew. His hatred … and deep love of his Jewish faith keeps him conflicted throughout the film. As he starts to feel more conflicted, he becomes more dangerous and unstable. There’s not a happy ending.

“The Believer” won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, but was condemned by some as anti-Semitic and wound up without a distributor. Showtime bought it, planned on premiering the film September 2001, but then 9/11 happened. Due to Showtime not wanting to show such an incendiary film so close in time to a national tragedy, the film got its appearance on the network delayed by several months.

It’s too bad this film got such short shrift. It’s a truly great, albeit extremely disturbing and upsetting masterpiece. The screenplay was published in book form by Thunders Mouth Press in 2002, with additional essays and thoughts by Bean. If you like the film, you definitely need to hunt the book down with the screenplay. Spike Lee said “Henry Bean is a big talent and ‘The Believer’ is his most courageous and thought-provoking work yet!'”

Eric Bogosian in “Talk Radio” (1988) dir. Oliver Stone

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One of the most ferocious performances I have ever seen on film is Bogosian’s turn as talk radio host Barry Champlain in Oliver Stone’s film “Talk Radio.” Like Andy Griffith’s performance in Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd” and Ryan Gosling’s performance in Henry Bean’s “The Believer,” these are performances so frighteningly intense that they seem to come from another planet. Tellingly, none of these performances were ever nominated for any major awards.

Unfortunately, all I’m able to post here is the original trailer.  The stunning monologue / freak-out Bogosian does near the end of the film that I originally posted has since been taken down by YouTube.  To be fair to this trailer, this was one of the first uses of George Thoroughgood’s “Bad to the Bone” in a film (after its use in John Carpenter’s “Christine” and a film called “Slayground” from the mid-1980s) before it got overused during the 1990s.

Why Bogosian never became a bigger star is beyond my comprehension. If you ever have the chance to see him live, do yourself a favor and go. I saw him in 2001 in Albany, NY and it was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Also recommended, his performance film “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.”