Film Review: Holy Rollers

Holy Rollers boasts a very amusing-sounding premise: young Hasidic Jews are recruited to become international drug smugglers.  Rather than a comedy-of-errors style tone, the film is more earnest, and is all the better for it.

Sam Gold is a young man living with his family in Brooklyn. He is studying to become a rabbi and awaiting an arranged marriage, fulfilling his family’s wishes. Josef, a friend and neighbour, offers Sam the chance to make some extra money by transporting medicine. Sam takes this opportunity, and becomes a drug mule for dealer Jackie. Sam’s traditional values are tested as he descends into the murky underworld…

Based on actual events that took place in 1998, Holy Rollers concentrates on the involvement of Sam, a young and naive Hasidic Jew. Sam is a perfectly placed protagonist from the outset of the film. He is depicted as less traditional than his family and best friend Leon, yet he is still in the midst of the community unlike the corrupt Josef. Thus, Sam strikes the balance between being open and receptive enough to the new world he is introduced to, and holding certain moral values that dictate the extent he will participate in this new world.

Holy Rollers features a great script by Antonio Macia. The characters are well developed and always believable. Moreover, Sam’s relationship with Rachel appears particularly authentic. Despite frequently viewing the action through Sam’s eyes, there is some disparity in this case between how Sam views the situation and the actuality as seen by the audience. While most will be able to identify with Sam, his misguidance is also apparent. The film effectively balances portrayals of the characters, offering natural shades of grey.

Although the film takes a contemplative tone, there is humour to be found. This comedy is often manifested through Sam’s ignorance or his mannerisms. It works well to lighten the tone of the sometimes grim world that is depicted in Holy Rollers.

Jesse Eisenberg is competent as ever as Sam. Eisenberg is wholly convincing as the protagonist, bringing his renowned awkwardness to the role. Justin Bartha is excellent as Josef, playing the money-hungry but charming rascal with some aplomb. Ari Graynor is also good as Rachel; it is easy to see why Sam would be attracted to her.

Kevin Asch’s direction is good. The film moves at an appropriate pace, dwelling when necessary and propelling the action on. The club scenes are incredibly effective at placing the viewer in the mindset of Sam. The music is overbearing and the flashing lights are too much at times, giving the audience an indication of Sam’s unfamiliarity with such surroundings.

Holy Rollers is conscientious, but at the same time never overbearing. The combination of drama with comedy asides works well; viewers should have few complaints.