Holy Rollers **
Directed by: Kevin Asch.
Written by: Antonio Macia.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Sam Gold), Justin Bartha (Yosef Zimmerman), Danny A. Abeckaser (Jackie Solomon), Ari Graynor (Rachel Apfel), Jason Fuchs (Leon Zimmerman), Q-Tip (Ephraim), Bern Cohen (Rebbe Horowitz), Mark Ivanir (Mendel Gold), Charlie Hewson (Andrew), Elizabeth Marvel (Elka Gold), Hallie Kate Eisenberg (Ruth Gold).
There is a fascinating true story behind Holy Rollers, that unfortunately doesn’t really translate to the screen all that well in this movie. Sam Gold (Jessie Eisenberg) is from a close knit family, in a close knit Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. He works with his father in the garment district, but may decide to study to be a rabbi instead. But then, for reasons the movie doesn’t entirely make clear, he gets involved with a smuggling ring bringing in ectasy tablets from the Netherlands. His neighbor Yosef (Justin Bartha) gets him involved with the ring, and the first time, lies to Sam about what he’ll be bringing back. But after that, Sam goes in with his eyes wide open.
This is all based on a true story, and I’m sure the real one is more fascinating the movie. Eiseneberg is fine in the lead role, but he isn’t really given much to work with. It was frustrating to watch the movie since I never could figure out why Sam was doing what he was doing. The film provides an explanation – that after his arranged marriage, to a beautiful girl, falls apart he believes it is because of money, and working with the ring gives him lots of it. But later, the filmmakers will explain that it wasn’t money that did in the arranged marriage but because her parents wanted someone to “protect her from the wolves”, so they chose Yosef’s younger brother Leon instead. This makes no sense at all to me, since when they reject Sam, he isn’t a drug dealer, and is pretty much the exact same person Leon is, who they deemed acceptable.
This may seem like a minor flaw, but to me it sunk the movie. Sam doesn’t really get “seduced” by the lifestyle – although he is drawn to Ari Graynor’s Rachel, the mistress of his boss. He doesn’t like to party, get high or having meaningless sex. And it isn’t until he is expelled from the community, that he stops dressing like a Hasidic Jew either. Yet at the same time, Eisenberg seems to go from the naïve kid who believes Bartha when he tells him they are bringing back “medicine”, into a smart, savvy businessman when it comes to dealing drugs. Yes, the same underlying business strategies exist whether you’re making fabric or making drugs, but the Sam we see in the first part of the movie, wouldn’t all of sudden assert himself like he does here. The movie may get the actions right, but it misses the psychological underpinning that would have made it more fascinating.
There are moments that work – scenes that come together, and the entire story behind the movie fascinated me. I never really thought about it, but using Hasidic Jews as drug mules make a lot of sense – who the hell is going to suspect them of smuggling drugs? But once the ritual of the smuggling becomes known to the audience, the film just keeps showing it to us again and again – for a movie that is not quite 90 minutes, there sure is a lot of repetition in it. Holy Rollers made the mistake of finding a good story, but then having no idea of how to tell it.