Archive for December, 2007

The Believer

Thursday, December 6th, 2007—Film

The Believer (USA 2001, Drama), Writers: Henry Bean, Mark Jacobson; Director: Henry Bean

I rented The Believer not long ago. Ryan Gosling. Wow. He just keeps impressing me more and more. Although I’m wondering what TS, who recommended The Believer, liked so much about the film as a whole. I thought it had a few very strong points, but overall I found it to be lacking.

Gosling stars as Danny Balint, a conflicted young man who is both Jewish and a neo-Nazi. Hence the conflict. The movie is based on the true story of Daniel Burros, a KKK member in the 1960s who was eventually revealed by a New York Times reporter to be Jewish.

What I enjoyed most about the film were Gosling’s performance and some of the writing. Gosling is outstanding. He portrays what is essentially a gross magnification of people’s tendency to hate in others what they hate in themselves. Yet he gives Danny real soul and substance. What I appreciated about the writing was the way it delved into Danny’s unique perspective on Judaism. So it felt more like digesting a sermon or lecture than enjoying great dialogue. But Danny’s arguments as to why he hates Jewish people are particularly resonant—although wrong—because of his thorough knowledge of Judaism.

The problem is that although the filmmakers, and of course Gosling, do a good job of showing how conflicted Danny is as a young adult, I couldn’t see how he went from being a devout student of Judaism to a violent, hateful neo-Nazi. It didn’t help that the actor playing Danny as a youth didn’t look or act anything like Gosling.

Also, the black and white fantasy sequences were incredibly cheesy and badly shot. They reeked of made-for-TV movie. Every time the music kicked in for one of the black and white sequences, I had to fight the urge to hit fast-forward. It just didn’t work for me.

I don’t mean to dismiss The Believer entirely, but I wouldn’t recommend watching it unless you want to study/enjoy Gosling’s performance, or try to wrap your head around some of the points Danny makes.

Oh, two other minor things I liked about the film:

1. The ending, because it reminded me of a short story idea I had in high school about a man walking up an endless, spiraling staircase.

2. The dynamic between Danny and his girlfriend Carla (Summer Phoenix). The actors can take most of the credit for that; it wasn’t so much what was in the script as what Phoenix did with it.


Saturday, December 1st, 2007—Film

Control (UK/USA/Australia/Japan 2007, Biography/Drama/Music), Writer: Matt Greenhalgh; Director: Anton Corbijn

I finally made it back to the ByTowne! And I didn’t even have to renew my membership, thanks to BD’s free movie passes. ;-)

We saw Control last week. (Wow—just writing this makes me crave ByTowne popcorn…) It’s a stunning, hyper-realistic documentation of the life of Ian Curtis, (Sam Riley) the deeply talented, volatile lead singer of England’s Joy Division. As Curtis’ problems with epilepsy, and self-diagnosed and misdiagnosed drugs, spiraled out of control, his depression and self-destructive tendencies worsened until he committed suicide at the age of 23.

The script is based on Touching From a Distance, a memoir written by Curtis’ wife Deborah. It unfolds very well, asking viewers to make a few leaps rather than spelling everything out word for word. And it doesn’t hurt that the dry British sense of humour comes through in little bursts.

Adding to the realism is the fact that Control is directed by Anton Corbijn, the photographer for Joy Division during the band’s heyday. With exceptional direction and gorgeous black and white cinematography, Corbijn recreates the atmosphere of Britain’s 70s rock scene with an insight that could only come from someone who lived through it. The film is a brilliant, bittersweet tribute to Joy Division, featuring some outstanding performances. Riley in particular is pitch-perfect; he delivers a painfully beautiful portrayal of Curtis’ mental illness.

Control is a bit like a stiff drink. It’s not everyone’s taste, so I don’t recommend it unilaterally to all of you reading this blog. But if you’re in the mood for something unusual, dark and honest, see this film. It will certainly be time well-spent.

Now I’m going outside to spend time in the cold, cold snow.