Holy Rollers Reviews
Sure, maybe the limitations are the result of this being a low budget indie, but I think it would have been worse as a big budget major studio affair. The real issue is that the idea is inspired, but the script, direction, and acting are all lacking.
I liked the idea of a young guy torn between religious studies and making tons of money in the drug trade, but they really dropped the ball with the concept here. It all felt rehashed, unoriginal, and jut kinda blah. It doesn't help that the lead is done by Jesse Eisenberg. I like him, but he just doesn't really appear to be trying here. Justin Bartha however is awesome. He gives the best performance, is the most interesting character, and the focus clearly should have been on him.
I wasn't totally bored, but I didn't really care a whole lot either. Also, the washed out look really didn't fit for me and seemed unnecessary. You could see it, but I would ONLY recommend it for hardcore completists.
In Brooklyn, a youth from an Orthodox Jewish community is lured into becoming an Ecstasy dealer by his pal who has ties to an Israel drug cartel.
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 (seemingly) easy money of drugs (ecstacy, in this instance), 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 (at least for me) 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 (big-time fan, the girl great), 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.
Director: Kevin Asch
Summary: Inspired by a true story, director Kevin Asch's film tells the story of Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who breaks with Orthodox tradition when he becomes an intercontinental Ecstasy smuggler for an Israeli drug cartel.
My Thoughts: "First off, the title of this film is amazing considering what this film is about. But this film lacked excitement for it to be a crime story. You feel no fear for the people smuggling drugs. There's no tension, no edge of your seat wondering whats going to happen next. It's a sleepy crime drama. No thriller here as stated in the synopsis. Just about a boy rebelling against his family and his religion. The cast is solid with great performances by most.. Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha kept this movie alive for me. Their character's is what kept me watching. It's not great but I still think it's worth the watch and the rental."
"Holy Rollers" proves without a doubt that just because a true story sounds fascinating does not mean it will play out the same way on the screen, as the movie relies on cliches of both drug and growing up in conservative religions genres while dragging towards the inevitable. That's not to mention the movie looking kind of cheap or Jesse Eisenberg sticking out like a sore thumb with his usual tics in such an emotionally subdued community. I think maybe the filmmakers were trying to make a case for the character's individuality but apparently did not notice that Sam's most memorable trait is his greed. If only the character had more complex motivation, it would have made it easier to care about him.
The story that Holy Rollers seeks to tell is a familiar one, but one that should translate well to film. The film does a good job at the start, establishing the rigid belief system and antiquated social structure of Eisenberg's background. His introduction to the world is believable, but the film soon seems to lose its sense of build up and pace. Whereas it set up the Jewish community so well, Essenberg's rise in the drug world seems rushed, with the character arcs of those surrounding him never being fully fleshed out. It's as if the film stopped trying to distinguish itself about 1/3 of the way through, and instead opted for auto pilot.
The performances in the film are all good, with Eisenberg having an especially interesting depiction of his character, conservative, awkward, shy, but yet curious and strangely competent. The problem, however, is that many of the supporting roles never fully developed, being especially pronounced with Justin Bartha's character. The relationship between Eisenberg and Ari Gaynor is also not handled especially well.
Despite the weaknesses, Holy Rollers remains entertaining. It has most of the hallmarks of an effective drama, though it never stops to catch itself and reignite its originality.