Prior to David Fincher’s The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg starred in Kevin Asch’s debut which was a Sundance hit and finally hit UK cinemas over a year later. Following his Oscar-nominated role of Mark Zuckerberg, we now see Eisenberg in another compelling performance Hasidic Jew Sam Gold who is lured into becoming an Ecstasy dealer by his next-door neighbour (Justin Bartha) who has ties to an Israeli drug cartel.
Inspired by actual 1990s events in which Hasidic Jews were recruited as mules to smuggle ecstasy, Antonio Macia’s (who strangely enough is a Mormon) script is somewhat unoriginal. Despite the interesting Jewish backdrop, what we see here is another flick that chronicles the rise and fall of a drug dealer, in which our young innocent protagonist is stuck between his Jewish heritage and this new life of crime he’s embarking on. As the narrative progresses, you can pinpoint on where the story goes and characters approaching their fate.
Despite lacking in originality, first-time director Kevin Asch keeps us engaged as this isn’t approached as a crime thriller, but as a coming-of-age drama which is the best way to approach this story. Being wittedly dubbed The Jewish Connection, Asch shoots everything like a documentary and thus you get a feel of the real locations which look authentically cold. If there was one aspect he should have reduced was the extensive use of Jewish rhymes, which is the clichéd religious monologue of crime stories (whatever religion it is).
Both Mark Zucker… (I mean, Jesse Eisenberg) and Justin Bartha who are the eponymous holy rollers are the standouts of the film. Although playing nerdy and innocent isn’t much of a stretch for the former actor, but Eisenberg has both a magnetic and sympathetic presence as evidence shows here. Having displayed a comedic backbone in the more mainstreamed National Treasure, Justin Bartha as the charming next-door neighbour establishes cockiness but a sense of fear to a job where your life depends on it.
Despite the simple A-to-B narrative of the script, Asch’s documentary-styled direction and compelling performances from both leads manages to prevent this from being a two-dimensional crime picture.
DIRECTOR: KEVIN ASCH
SCREENWRITER: ANTONIO MACIA
STARRING: JESSE EISENBERG, JUSTIN BARTHA, ARI GRAYNOR, DANNY ABECKASER
RUNTIME: 89 MINS