The idea of a Jewish ‘coming of age’ film doesn’t instantly evoke originality. The modern world, with its endless opportunities for Faustian cop-outs, is so at conflict with the teachings of the Tanakh, that such plots will always have a certain pertinence. What spices things up however, is when said plot is based on a true story involving large-scale drug smuggling.
Holy Rollers is about a young Orthodox Jew, Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) who is frustrated by the modest life that is being carved out for him. He is due to inherit his father’s small business and marry a girl who he doesn’t know. After talking to his friend Yosef (Justin Bartha), he gets involved in smuggling ‘medication’ from Europe to America for the high-rolling fallen Jew, Jackie (Danny Abeckaser). Of course, this medication is indeed ecstasy pills, and Sam gets quickly swept up in the dangerous but exciting world of drugs, women and big money.
The film begins fairly light and comical, as is often the case with sharply observed films about Jewish families. The dull sepia tint of the early film combines well with the confined surroundings of the local community to reflect Sam’s frustration at his surroundings. This is complemented by Eisenberg’s naturally tense acting style, which always gives the impression that his character is never fully content with whatever situation he’s in. Perfect for a young Jewish man in a moral limbo.
It doesn’t take long for the plot to reach its plateau when Sam embraces the high life with Jackie and Yosef. However, once it reaches that point, it fails to develop much further. The dynamics between the characters are pleasing to watch, even though Yossef is a bit too much of a copy of coked-up Jewish lawyer Kleinfeld from Carlito’s Way. Yet aside from Sam slowly succumbing to religious guilt over what he’s doing, the film stagnates at around the halfway point.
There is promise of various twists in the plot. Yossef shows hints of jealousy towards Sam’s good business mind, and his erratic, drug-fuelled behaviour a side-dealings should surely lead to some kind of big trouble for Sam and himself. However, these openings are never fully exploited, and the film plods along towards an ending that is both sentimental and predictable
Holy Rollers is a highly watchable film thanks to strong performances from all the leading actors, who lighten up the film’s bleak, Wintry aesthetic. Nevertheless, Holy Rollers builds itself up towards a climax that never quite happens, leaving you feeling a little empty at the point where you should’ve felt blown away.
Disc & Extras
In terms of quality, Holy Rollers is barely recogniseable as a Blu-ray disc. Despite its 1080p resolution, the lines between objects are blurred and the film grain is often brutally visible. While the film is meant to have an old-fashioned, almost sepia, visual style, it should not be so damn boring to behold.
There is little to speak of in terms of extras here. A couple of interviews, some deleted scenes, and a reasonably interesting audio commentary with the director and lead stars Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha. Given the film’s based on an intriguing true story, a documentary giving some insight into the actual events and people involved in this drug-smuggling operation would definitely have made this a more worthwhile package.
Holy Rollers is available now on Blu-ray.