I thought I might have seen everything I needed to see about neo-Nazi skinheads in “Romper Stomper” and “American History X”. Not only was I in for a surprise, but newcomer Ryan Gosling gives every bit as stunning a performance as did Russell Crowe and Ed Norton in those two films, and then some.
Gosling is Danny Balint, a fiercely intelligent young man destined to rise through the ranks of the modern fascist movement. His fervent hatred for Jews only masks a thinly held secret: He’s Jewish. Once a fierce student of the Jewish culture and religion, Danny feels compelled to inflict his self-hatred on his own community. Once he begins leading his own gang of armed skinheads and fundraising for rich fascist Nina Mobius (Theresa Russell), the results can only be tragic.
Now, I don’t know what exactly writer/director Henry Bean might have been through to make this film. The award-winning novelist had previously written the screenplays to such movies as “Internal Affairs” and the fantastic “Deep Cover.” Let me just say that this picture is far from what I expected. The skinhead stuff is really secondary to Danny’s struggle with his Jewish identity. Part of the reason that some of his comrades become suspicious of Danny is that the never talks about Blacks or Latinos. He’s ALWAYS talking about Jews and disputing details and topics of Jewish culture. I’m not sure I even feel qualified to discuss all the points he brings up since some of them are beyond my level of knowledge. Now, before you start sending me hate mail, read what I’m about to say carefully. I can personally identify with Danny on some of the issues of religion. I was raised in an evangelical fundamentalist church in West Virginia, and one of the greatest personal struggles of my life has been about coming to terms and rejecting much of that with which I was indoctrinated. When Daniel discusses how the Old Testament God is kind of a dick with control issues, it’s easy to agree with him. What he least seems to understand (which took me years to get) is that much of his passion about disputing the subject comes from the fact that he really wants to believe. Eventually, by pushing his hatred as far as it can go, he might just find how much he really does believe and how important his identity really is to him.
Again, I don’t know how Henry Bean came up with this story. You just get the sense that what you’re seeing is a very personal struggle in what will probably be one of the most powerful films of the year.