15 January 2005 | docdespicable
Back when this hit theaters, I missed it for some reason - I think the ad campaign left me rather nonplussed. In any case, I gave it a miss, only to take the chance on it some years later on video. And I have to say I was impressed! This is NOT a movie for the impatient viewer. Opening with family tragedy, it then takes necessary time to introduce its characters, really introduce them and give the audience time to get to know them and care about them. During the "character study" portion, there are only rare implications that something sinister is in the offing.
Other reviews have stated that the movie is slow, that it drags, that it's padded out with perhaps unnecessary exposition, but I must disagree - to believe THE BELIEVERS, one must "believe" a bit oneself. A film that drops the viewer into a breakneck chase from the outset has its place and its advantages in storytelling, but almost invariably such movies are about the chase, rather than the people. THE BELIEVERS is about the people, which separates it from the typical batch of "supernatural thrillers". Here we get the whole story, rather than a sort of synopsis, wherein we get only the "high points", those scenes which contain the most action or gore or both. TOTAL RECALL is an excellent example of this type of film, done well; one need only look at any of the horror/slasher franchise films to have an idea of this type of film done at a dead run, for money and the most shock value. They can be fun, but I'm not sure they qualify as art.
What makes THE BELIEVERS so disturbing is that, at its best, it *builds belief* in the audience. This might seem redundant, since, going in, we demonstrate a willingness to believe that is initially missing from the main charter(s); but in this case, we no longer have the emotional distance to simply watch and say, "Oh, I saw that coming," or "Blah - never in a million years." By the time Helen Shaver goes through her ordeal with that unsightly blemish, nothing about it seems far-fetched at all! Performances are, generally, successful. Young Harley Cross is excellent as young Chris, and the rest of the cast is populated with familiar faces or faces that were destined to become very familiar indeed, such as Jimmy Smits. My sole complaint comes from certain scenes with Martin Sheen - emotionally, he goes from conversation to screaming in an instant, and it just doesn't seem appropriate to the scene, especially when one considers that he's playing a psychiatrist - a professional group who are specifically trained in keeping their cool in the heat of a situation. Some of the dialog, too, occasionally comes out sounding like they shot the rehearsal.
THE BELIEVERS is not without flaw - nevertheless, enough good remains that it rewards the patient viewer with a rich storytelling experience!