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HOLY ROLLERS
DVD / Blu-ray. Crabtree Films.

Holy RollersProving 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.

Holy RollersHoly 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 excellent film.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK) DVDBLU-RAY

BUY IT NOW (USA)

 

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