/ Blu-ray. Crabtree Films.
the truth really is sometimes strangers than fiction,
Holy Rollers is based around the true story of
a group of Hasidic Jews who were convicted of smuggling ecstasy
pills into the United States during the late 1990’s.
Jesse Eisenberg is Sam, a young Hasid in New York who is becoming
frustrated with the restraints of his culture. He falls under
the influence of next door neighbour Yosef (Justin Bartha), who
is already straddling both the Hasidic and secular culture, and
is convinced to join him in importing ‘medicine’ from
Amsterdam for Israeli drug dealer Jackie (Danny A. Abeckaser).
Sam soon realizes that what he’s doing might not be exactly
legal, but becomes increasingly caught up in the exciting world
that Jackie and his girlfriend Rachel (Ari Graynor) move in, and
becomes increasing torn as his family and community begin to shun
him and he falls in love with Rachel.
It would be easy to turn this story into a broad comedy –
after all, the idea of a religiously closed community becoming
involved in organized crime has a lot of comic potential –
so it’s to the credit of director Kevin Asch and writer
Antonio Macha that they resist the temptation to go for cheap
laughs. Admirably, they avoid making moral judgments about anyone
– the Hasids or the criminals – and instead treat
their characters as rounded human beings. It’s easy to see
why Sam would be attracted by the charming Yosef, and also entirely
understandable that he would misinterpret Rachel’s pilled-up
affections for something more meaningful.
Rollers has the feel of a 1970s film – not in some
self-conscious Grindhouse way, but simply through
a combination of pacing, performance, an unfussy visual palate
(New York feels like a character in the film) and the development
of the story – it’s a film you could almost imagine
Scorsese making in his prime. Eisenberg plays the socially-repressed,
conflicted Sam to perfection, and the supporting cast are all
excellent. Asch keeps things on a low level – there are
no gangland shoot-outs or other violent eruptions to take the
film out of reality – and avoids cliché for the most
part. Even the Hasids – as alien as Martians to most people
– are shown as rounded, individual characters, and the film
makes no attempt to suggest that Sam is either right or wrong
in his need to escape the restrictions of his cultural upbringing.
Holy Rollers does an great job of making an outlandish
(if broadly true) story seem believable, and does so in a hugely
entertaining, and sometime touching way. It’s a surprisingly
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