“Holy Rollers” a Strange but True Crime Tale
If “Holy Rollers” weren’t based on actual incidents, one might be tempted to dismiss it as too far-fetched.
First-time director Kevin Asch and screenwriter Antonio Macia swear this cautionary tale was based on actual events in 1998, when a small group of Hasidic Jews were busted for smuggling more than 1 million ecstasy pills from Amsterdam to New York City over the course of a year.
How could members of one of the most conservative, Orthodox sects of Judaism be involved in such a crime?, one might ask.
The short answer is naivety. A longer answer involves temptation, greed and weakness of spirit.
Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is a 20-year-old member of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community. He works in his father’s clothing business, but the family hopes he will be inspired to become a rabbi.
Sam’s best friend Yosef (Justin Bartha) introduces him to a slick operator named Jackie Solomon (Danny A. Abeckaser). Jackie says the guys can make some quick cash simply by transporting “medicine” from Holland to America. Because Hasidic Jews are considered above reproach it would be unlikely they would be troubled too much by customs authorities.
With his innocent, boyish face, Sam certainly doesn’t look like a drug runner, and the fact he is attracted to Jackie’s pretty girlfriend Rachel (Ari Graynor) makes the deal all the more attractive.
It’s a story as old as the Book of Genesis. If you know the Bible or the Torah, you know once a man yields to temptation, there is the devil to pay.
As inevitable as the fate of Sam Gold is, Jesse Eisenberg keeps it interesting by his convincing characterization of a truly naïve, basically good young man who is quickly changed into someone quite unrecognizable, and totally heedless of his peril.
Shot in just 18 days, “Holy Rollers” has a rough documentary feel to it. It is certainly not a feel-good movie. I can’t imagine what niche audience it fits. There are bad apples in every kind of religion. In an increasingly mistrustful world, no one is above suspicion.