Holy Rollers tells the fact-based, loosely fact-based, story of a young Orthodox Jewish man’s foray into the international criminal underground.
Jesse Eisenberg, again proving that he is one of the most talented actors of his generation, plays Sam Gold, a sweet natured member of a tight-knit Hasidic community in Brooklyn. At every turn he follows the rules and does what he is expected of him, from working with his father in the family fabric store, to studying to become a rabbi. He is betrothed to a woman that he has never met, though he does love her from afar. Even though Sam is 20-years-old, and grew up in New York, he lives a sheltered existence. For example, he doesn’t know what breast implants are.
Sam’s family is so poor that the oven in their kitchen doesn’t even have knobs. They have to adjust the burners with a pair of pliers. He shows a certain amount of natural business acumen, but the patriarch of the clan always puts everything else—faith, community, family, pride, tradition—ahead of money. At one point he sells a bolt of expensive fabric at a loss just to appease a regular customer. This stance costs Sam his future wife when her family refuses the match because of their poverty.
When Sam’s neighbor Yosef (Justin Bartha) recruits him to import “medicine” from Amsterdam, Sam jumps at the opportunity to make a little extra cash to help support his family (which includes Eisenberg’s real life sister, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, better known as the Pepsi girl from a popular series of soft drink commercials). As it turns out, they are smuggling ecstasy for an Israeli drug dealer who wears pastel tracksuits. Despite his initial shock, the taste of easy money is too much to resist, and Sam is hooked.
Before long Sam is caught up in a world of exciting parties in dimly lit clubs, seductive women, and international narcotics trafficking, earning a tracksuit all his own. Around him, his world collapses, and his friends, family, and community turn their backs on him. When he buys his mother a new oven with his ill-gotten gains, he is shamed out of the house. He must deal with the consequences of his choices, and decide once and for all where his loyalties lie.
Holy Rollers is an interesting take on a familiar story. At first you think that the plot will take the Goodfellas/Scarface path, following a young man’s rise through the criminal ranks. However, director Kevin Asch and writer Antonio Macia turn the tale in a different direction. Rather than a standard drug movie, the filmmakers use that set up as a frame in which to craft a moving, independent drama. You accompany Sam on an up and down journey, through the intoxicating highs—the money, the girls, the rush—but also through the cavernous lows. You’re there as he watches his ex-best friend marry his ex-future wife, and as he dishonors his family and corrupts other innocents.
Initially the sound quality of the DVD is up and down. Though it clears up eventually, the dialogue in the opening few scenes is muddy, and it can be a distraction. There are five deleted scenes, none longer than 53-seconds, which were all cut for good reason. A short interview with Eisenberg and Bartha doesn’t add a whole lot, however the commentary with them and Asch is full of nice behind the scenes information. Eisenberg serves as a de facto moderator for the track, pushing the momentum when it begins to flag.