Holy Rollers (2010)

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Holy Rollers is a biographical crime drama set in Brooklyn and inspired by true events. A young Orthodox Jew is enticed into the world of drug smuggling by his neighbour, who has connections with an Israeli drug lord.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Sam Gold, a young Hasidic Jew living in a Jewish community in Brooklyn with his family. He works in his father’s dress making shop and has his whole life planned out for him. He will be married off to a girl he’s hardly ever talked to and is set to become a Rabbi.

Sam has grown up in a stereotypical, poor New York Jewish family, with lots of ‘shaloms’ and ‘chutzpahs’ and they are in the process of celebrating Hanukah. Eisenberg plays Sam in a very recognisable format, giving him a socially awkward charm, with a head for business (sound familiar?). It’s definitely not a far stretch from his characters in Zombieland, The Social Network and Adventureland, in the way he portrays Sam.

Sam’s neighbour is Yosef, played by Justin Bartha, who is much better known for his comedic roles in The Hangover and National Treasure, than a more serious role like this. Yosef is off the rails, which we get a glimpse of in his first bit of screen time. He’s sat watching porn over the road from Sam, as Sam watches on through a crack in his curtains. We get a sense that Sam is after something more in this life and Yosef has it.

Sam sits down for a chat with Yosef and after noticing he is wearing a Rolex and some brand new trainers, he gets wondering where he got the money from to pay for it all. Yosef explains his little job on the side and offers the same job to Sam, which is to import ‘medicine’ from Europe for rich people. Being naïve and not world savvy, Sam takes him up on the offer at a chance of making a bit of money to help his family out. His father is told that he is off to Atlantic City as asked for by the Rabbi, but Sam heads off on his first adventure to Amsterdam and his new life as a ‘medicine’ importer.
Sam is introduced to the drug lord, Jackie and his girlfriend Rachel, played by Danny Abeckaser and Ari Graynor respectively. He is given strict instructions on what he needs to do, i.e. look as much like an Orthodox Jew as possible and act natural with the suitcases past the sniffer dogs. He makes it past the dogs fine, as the ‘medicine’ is untraceable by scent. When they’re back in the country, Sam finally finds out that he’s brought ecstasy back into the country and he’s not very happy about it, until he is handed a large sum of money.

There isn’t really much of the should he/shouldn’t he get into it further debate, as word gets around quickly and he is soon ostracised by the community and kicked out of his family home. He also finds out that the family won’t let him marry the girl of his dreams any more, as she has been betrothed to his friend Leon instead.

After many trips over to Amsterdam, he starts to use some of his Jewish side to negotiate better deals for Jackie and becomes more adept at the business side of the smuggling until he is eventually trusted to entice more young Jews to take up the challenge. During the film, there is an offshoot storyline about Rachel taking a bit of a shine to Sam and turning him a little more over to the dark side. There doesn’t seem to be much focus on Sam’s fall from grace though. At the start, he is nervous and unwilling to deal in such business, but then he seems to just take to the criminal life like a duck to water and only every now and then little bits of his Orthodox personality come out. There’s one great scene to note about this where he is kissing Rachel and after every kiss, he thanks her.

As you can imagine, things don’t turn out great for all involved, else they wouldn’t have made a film about it. As the credits role, we’re informed that between 1998 and 1999, this small group of Jewish mules imported over a million ecstasy tablets from Europe to America and we’re left feeling that maybe we missed out on a bit of the story a little along the way.

Holy Rollers isn’t a bad film at all. In fact, being Kevin Asch’s directorial debut, I’d say it was a great start to his career. One thing that did let it down was the writing. The contrast between the two worlds of the Jews in Brooklyn and the drug dealers/prostitutes in Amsterdam isn’t quite defined well enough and the film flits between the two too quickly for the audience to get a good feel of either of them. Eisenberg and Bartha carry the film well, but other characters needed a little more definition to give the film extra depth.

Holy Rollers is out on DVD and blu-ray 24th October 2011.

DIRECTOR: Kevin Asch
WRITER: Antonio Macia
STARS: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor and Danny A. Abeckaser
RUNTIME: 89MINS
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆
DISC Rating: ★★★★☆

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