Cert: 15 Runtime: 89 mins Director: Kevin Asch Cast: Jessie Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny A, Ari Graynor and Bern Cohen
You are a liar and a criminal. You are not my son
A young man with a religious calling begins following a very different path in this independent drama based on a true story. Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Hasidic Jew in his late teens who lives with his family in Brooklyn. Sam’s father, Mendel (Mark Ivanir), runs a fabric store and Sam helps out when he isn’t busy with his rabbinical studies. But Mendel isn’t an especially good businessman, a fact that’s become very obvious to Sam, and his uncertain financial future has caused his fiancée’s parents to call off the couple’s upcoming wedding. Sam is also suffering from a bit of jealousy toward his best friend, Leon (Jason Fuchs), who seems to have better luck in both life and academics, so when Leon’s older brother, Yosef (Justin Bartha), offers Sam some good-paying part-time work, he’s more than interested. Sam is instructed to fly to Amsterdam, pick up a parcel, and bring it back; it’s not until he comes home to New York that it dawns on Sam that he’s transporting drugs, but between the hefty payroll, the charm of Amsterdam-based ecstasy wholesaler Jackie Solomon (Danny A. Abeckaser), and the beauty of Jackie’s sexy paramour, Rachel (Ari Graynor), Sam begins to think life in the drug game might be just the thing for him after all.
I’m not sure how close Holy Rollers comes to the actual events that it’s based on, but it’s an interesting flick. It really doesn’t do much more than the many movies that chronicle the rise and fall of a drug dealer that came before, if I’m being honest. You have your innocent young man who’s seduced and corrupted by the easy money of drugs (ecstacy), that he’s introduced to by a shady friend, and most of the consequences play out in exactly the way you would expect them to and have seen before. But the setting among the Hasidic Jew community of New York gives the movie a unique spin that made it something other than the cookie-cutter story it could have been.Jesse Eisenberg was totally believable as the initially pure-hearted main character whose desire to make more money leads him away from his family and the life he values. It was a good role for him, but it didn’t really require him to stretch beyond his characters in Adventureland or Zombieland. Which isn’t to say that he’s not good here, he just gives a very familiar performance. I hear he plays a very different character than his usual in The Social Network, though, so hopefully my fears of him being forever bound by one particular character type are unfounded. Ari Graynor was the reason why I initially wanted to see the movie, but I have to admit that her character was pretty one-dimensional and didn’t really give her much to work with. The same goes for Justin Bartha’s character and most of the others in the movie: they’re not really written as whole people. They’re given one or two qualities and everything they do stems exactly from their total greed, purity, etc. It would have been nice to see some more “complete” characters, but that’s my only real complaint about the film.I liked the documentary-like quality of the camera work; if almost made it seem like I was watching the movie unfold in real-time. And as I said before, the setting and context the story plays out in was Holy Rollers’ biggest strength, in my opinion. How much you enjoy it will depend largely on how much interest you still have in these kinds of stories, as it admittedly doesn’t rise out the familiar trappings and scenarios of similar movies. I still found it to be pretty entertaining, though.