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NBFF 2010: Holy Rollers

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Holy Rollers is based on a true story that took place over six months in 1998-'99 as an Israeli drug dealer in New York used Hasidic Jews to transport ecstasy from Amsterdam into the United States. The premise of this low-budget independent film offers potential but ultimately suffers from a story that is too familiar and not completely told.

Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young Hasidic Jew, living with his family in Brooklyn. He works is his father's store while studying to be a rabbi and anticipates an arranged marriage with an attractive young woman; however, when the marriage doesn't happen, for reasons never clearly explained, it leads into a crisis of faith for Sam.

In steps his neighbor Yosef Zimmerman (Justin Bartha), a young man who has thrown off the shackles of the Hasidic tradition and makes Sam a compelling offer: a large amount of money can be made transporting medicine from Amsterdam. Sam agrees though he soon finds out he is actually carrying ecstasy. Luckily, Hasidic Jews aren't considered a security risk and passes through airports easily.

Sam shows a great aptitude for business and numbers and rises up in the organization. As he blossoms in the drug community, he is diminished in the Hasidic community. His father orders him to leave, though it’s not clear if he knows exactly what Sam does as there's no discussion. Sam embraces his banishment and continues his work, but his good fortune in this line of work can only last so long.

The story is rather formulaic, but that's not all to blame on screenwriter Antonio Macia because it's the drug dealers in real life who are clichéd, making very familiar mistakes. Their hubris causes them to expand their operations and change their routines in order to increase profits. This naturally leads to the authorities discovering what is happening.

The acting is good, particularly Eisenberg as he deals with this young man transforming from one world to the next. Unfortunately, the film doesn't explore and make the viewer understand the workings of the Hasidic world, so it diminishes half the characters. There was a good opportunity to add depth to that half of the story if the writer had dug beneath the surface. Instead what the audience is given are caricatures at times.

The biggest sin Holy Rollers commits is being anti-climatic. Just when the third act of the story should occur, showing Sam turning himself in and working with the authorities, the film cuts to title cards explaining how the story played out, causing it to feel incomplete.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS