At age twelve, Danny Balint (RYAN GOSLING) is a precocious and restless Jewish boy who, when not avoiding the gentile hoodlums who prowl the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood, can be found debating the stern rabbis at his yeshiva. By age twenty-two, he is an impassioned skinhead who browses militia movement websites and seethes with a ferocious anti-Semitic rage.
At a neo-fascist organizational meeting at Lina Moebius's home (THERESA RUSSELL), Danny impresses people with his articulate fervor. He particularly impresses Lina's bright and complicated daughter, Carla (SUMMER PHOENIX), who is more interested in Danny's strange passions and brooding intellect than in her mother's politics.
As Danny rises in right-wing circles, his increasing prominence makes hiding his Jewish identity increasingly difficult. Indeed, a reporter for the New York Times (A. D. MILES) is aware of Danny's Judiasm and intends to print the story. Fleeing New York with his fellow skinheads, he picks a fight in a kosher deli and is forced to attend court-ordered "sensitivity training" with elderly Holocaust survivors. As the survivors tell their terrible stories, Danny explodes in rage at the Jews' helpless passivity before the Nazis, and their apparent willingness to endure endless torture rather than fight back.
The survivors, however, affect him more than he realizes or would ever admit and, when he leads a group of skinheads into a nearby synagogue to plant a bomb, he finds himself unexpectedly moved by the familiar presence of the sanctuary, the ark, and above all, the Torah. This experience forces Danny to confront a lingering - and undesired - attraction for the religious beliefs and traditions of his youth.
Soon Danny is living an extraordinary double life: by day, he gives anti-Semitic speeches, raises money for neo-fascist causes, and develops elaborate plans to bomb synagogues. By night, he studies Torah, wears his tallis, and teaches his girlfriend Carla Hebrew as she tempts him with a future of Sabbath prayers and religious devotion. Danny is a Jew and a Nazi at once, living an impossible - and unsustainable - contradiction.