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"You are a liar and a criminal. You are not my son."
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In this compellingly acted but underwritten true-life saga, Sammy Gold
(Jesse Eisenberg) is a good Hasidic Jewish boy who works with his
father in the garment district. At twenty, Sammy is naive and polite.
He's supposed to get married, though the girl switches to somebody
else. He may become a rabbi, but he's not sure yet. He looks sweet and
adorable in his 'payis'side curls, black suit, and big hat. He has a
good head for business and is dissatisfied that his unambitious father
would put customer relations so far above profits. Along comes Yosef
(Justin Bartha), a neighborhood acquaintance, who's making inexplicable
amounts of money and wears a flashy Rolex. "Women like shiny things,"
he says. He claims he's getting paid a lot just for carrying medicine
over from Europe for rich people.
At Yosef's urging, Sammy joins in on a trip and drags along his neighbor Leon (Jason Fuchs). All they have to do is carry suitcases, not look in them or open them for anybody, not look nervous, and act Jewish. Acting Jewish isn't too hard when you're decked out as an orthodox Jew. They go to Amsterdam and return to New York via Brussels and Montreal. The two young men in their black suits and big hats are forced to wait in a brothel hotel in the red light district: their first trip to Amsterdam isn't very glamorous. (Later Sammy comments that he knows Anne Frank's house is here and he's sorry he doesn't get time to visit it.) Leon freaks out at the obvious illegality of the operation on the first trip and quits; he's getting married. But Sammy, whose life hadn't taken shape, continues the lucrative runs and even becomes a semi-partner, looking after the business side and instructing new recruits. What Sammy and the others with him are doing is acting as drug mules and they're bringing the illegal recreational drug "ecstasy" (MDMA) from Amsterdam to New York. Orthodox Jewish garb is perfect cover. Who would suspect such a person? The ringleader is Jackie Soloman (Danny A. Abeckaser), an Israeli. Sammy is charmed by, and partly charms, Jackie's girlfriend Rachel (Ari Graynor). Though he pretends to be still working for his father, Sammy allows Jackie and his world to dominate his life.
As played by Eisenberg with a nice mixture of lightness and intensity, Sammy, or Shmu'el as his father and the rabbi call him, is a mass of contradictions that come together perfectly to get him into this mess. He's smart but naive, aggressive but shy, aloof but a people-pleaser, a good boy who becomes a willing criminal. The film informs us that between 1998 and 1999, this group of Hasid mules transported over a million ecstasy tablets from Europe to America. The orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn, like that of Jerusalem in 'Eyes Wide Open' -- Haim Tabakman's Israeli tale of an married orthodox butcher who gets involved in a secret homosexual love affair -- is tight and small, and word eventually gets around that Sammy is doing something very, very wrong. His father disowns him and he becomes isolated from family and community. Meanwhile the operation grows too careless and ambitious. New mules are forced to carry heroin, which drug-sniffing dogs can detect, along with the ecstasy. Sammy Gold's world collapses from within and without, and he winds up crying on the steps in Brooklyn next to Leon, begging for help as the police sirens approach.
'Holy Rollers' shows us the Hasidic Jews' world and the dark, flashy, world of the constantly partying drug smugglers, who seem to like sampling their own wares. Eventually Rachel persuades Sammy to try them and swig liquor and dance and kiss her and wear a soft brown cashmere Italian suit. (The young Hasids on the take go around in silly looking white Nikes that Jackie gives them. )
The tricky part is showing how boys from the one world can get lured into the other one. The best moments, because they're when the crossover becomes plausible, are when Sammy talks about the value of making a little more "gelt," or steps in to challenge a black European ecstasy manufacturer who thinks he can both increase production and raise his price. Jesse Eisenberg, who first attracted notice in the 2002 movie 'Roger Dodger' and then in 'The Squid and the Whale,' 'Adventureland' and 'Zombieland,' has a disarmingly pure quality, and it's fun to watch him take on the central role in a sort of action film. Sammy Gold is all jittery, spunky surface. Eisenberg gives him a nervous intensity that's both oddball and appealing. When he kisses Rachel he thanks her after each kiss while trying to pull away. He can act skittish and bold at the same time. He adds a depth that the screenplay hardly allows. 'Holy Rollers' is his vehicle. It will be remembered for his fresh, vivid performance.
The trouble with the movie is that it gets so deep in the back-and-forth spiraling drug-transporting action the moral complexity of the situation goes out the window. Eisenberg's changes of expression and scenes that shift from dark Amsterdam nightclubs and New York raves to Brooklyn row houses bleached out by the cold winter light suggest a world of contradictions the film unfortunately doesn't fully explore.
really loved & enjoyed this movie. It was engaging from the beginning. It used dark colors which helped set the mood for the cold Brooklyn winter. It's a human story between temptation & wanting to do the right thing. The main character is torn between tradition& morality. Very touching, & extremely well acted by all. If you liked the Social Network, you will also enjoy this movie; it has the same fast paced, engaging speed; you really want to know what is going to happen next. Jesse Eisenberg's acting really portrays his moral dilemma with wanting to be an observant Hasidic Jew, but being irresistibly tempted by the money of drug dealing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really enjoyed Holy Rollers. I want to see it again. They did a good
job portraying Sammy's frustration with the uptight moral values of his
family and church. Just watching that first half with all the
churchgoing and family rituals and not at all any fun-having, I was
like yes, drugs, sex, bring it on, this is ridiculous. It was all so
dry and boring it was no wonder.
The scene where Jackie's girlfriend talks to Sammy while on ex is phenomenal. Just dead on. I have never seen any movie previously do such a realistic portrayal. Go see the movie just for that scene it is entirely worth it.
There were not a whole lot of moments in the film that just rang completely false, I mean it was pretty honest. It was a pretty respectful movie and I appreciated that.
When Josef calls out to his little brother from the car, all coked up, taking off his watch and yelling that he's gotten him a present. Priceless.
I didn't get it though how Sammy's father just completely abandons all hope in his son. I mean being such a religious man and all, he didn't really offer any forgiveness or understanding. Being all "Why?, Why?" I mean he had to understand why at least to some extent.
I also did not get this one scene where Josef gets into a fight with these two guys, Sammy starts to drive away, calling out to Josef, and then it cuts to some buses or something. That was confusing.
I was going to explain what I liked about the ending but I don't want to spoil it :)
Go see it
Kevin Asch's "Holy Rollers" tells the story of a group of Hasidic Jews recruited as mules to smuggle ecstasy from the Netherlands to the United States. In addition to the main story, there's also a look into the Hasidic world. The main character Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is expected to marry a woman chosen for him, and he is shown to be afraid to touch a woman not chosen for him. The movie shows the Hasidim having a lifestyle very similar to the evangelical Christians. The look at Sam's life keeps the audience interested in him, but most of the characters aren't really developed enough. Even so, the movie mostly held my attention, both as a look at the drug smuggling story, and a look at the Hasidic culture. Worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I never heard of this movie and recorded it only because it stars Jesse
Eisenberg, an interesting actor. It turned out to be a solid drama,
very engaging, about a young man torn between two drastically different
worlds, the Brooklyn Hasidic world in which he was raised and the
criminal world of drug smuggling and easy money. The ending
demonstrates the power of family and community as the young man, Sam,
played by Eisenberg, desperately returns home.
The movie portrays the Hasidic community from the inside, with no overt attempt to explain its ways and customs to outsiders. While a passing familiarity with Jewish traditions might be useful to viewers, any reasonably intelligent person should have no problem figuring out why people say and do the things they do in this film. My guess is that someone from a very different way of life, such as an evangelical Christian, might find it easy to empathize with the characters. On the other hand, I personally am resolutely non-religious yet found the movie compelling.
Hard to explain why Jesse Eisenberg is so interesting to watch. His facial expression is really quite limited. Most of the time he wears a frown of intense concentration--the same look that characterized him through much of The Social Network. On the rare occasion when he smiles or (at the end of the movie) cries, it is a memorable moment.
Thanks to the note on the Holy Rollers IMDb start page, I see that there was a subtext or rationale for the title of this movie, but I still think it is an inappropriately snarky title for the serious drama that this turns out to be.
Holy Rollers is well worth seeing.
Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young man whose life is run by his
Orthodox Hasidic Jewish upbringing. He lives at home, works for his
father, and will marry only the woman he is set up with. Everything
changes, however, when he accepts a job offer from Yosef (Justin
Bartha), his best friend's older brother who serves as the community's
black sheep. Presented as a free trip to Amsterdam, Sam quickly
discovers that to return home, he will have to carry Ecstasy through
customs. While he is clearly shaken by this foray into the world of
drug running, he quickly realizes what kind of financial benefit this
trade could bring him. He begins training other down-on-their-luck Jews
to smuggle drugs and before long, asserts himself as a valuable part of
kingpin Jackie Solomon's (Danny A. Abeckaser). But as the deals get
bigger, Sam's family life falls apart and he comes closer and closer to
the edge as the feds get closer.
"Rollers" gets some good-enough performances from the cast. Eisenberg brings a certain emotional attachment to the project and does an admirable job of making Sam his own man instead of a Mark Zuckerberg as a drug mule. Bartha, usually the comic relief, plays well against-type and embraces the black sheep junkie with flair. Based on real events, the film's setting is interesting but fails to develop as I would have liked. There's a great story to be told within the framework of the "Orthodox Jew struggles with the abandonment of his family and faith in order to make good money" plot line. Unfortunately, director Kevin Asch and screenwriter Antonio Macia neglect this, the most intriguing aspect of the tale. Instead, the focus is placed on a cookie-cutter love triangle that stagnates the flow of the film and brought about boredom on my part. A refocused narrative could have made "Holy Rollers" an engrossing film. Instead, the final product is mediocre at best.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How's this for a story? For sixth months between 1998 and 1999 one
million Ecstasy tablets were smuggled into New York from Amsterdam by a
tiny cartel. The young mules were able to sail through customs on
account of looking exactly like law-abiding Hasidic Jews yarmulkes,
rekels and all. But these were no dime-store disguises. They really
were Hasidic Jews, looking to make some extra gelt. One was even
arrested after refusing to ride a bus on the Sabbath, giving cops extra
time to catch them. What a great idea for a film, you say? Well now.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Sam Gold, a wide-eyed restless Yeshiva from Brooklyn, who dreams of marrying the girl up the street and busting out of his old man's garment business. After his Bad Hasid neighbour (Bartha) offers him a gig ferrying "medicine" to the States, he's soon mingling in nightclubs with pill-popping gentiles, falling for the boss's moll, and symbolically and literally severing ties with his community by cutting off his sidelocks. What's the betting he's heading for some kind of fall?
The Yiddish word Aroysgevorfen refers to that which is thrown away, wasted and so it is with this promising set-up. As Jewish crime pictures go, it was never exactly going to be Once Upon a Time in America, but what could have been a fascinating film about what happens to a person's sense of identity when they so dramatically stray from their faith all but renders Hasidism a gimmicky hook to hang a dull, trite redemption tale on. They may as well have used circus clowns. Sam appears to make the transition to international MDMA-runner without a tremor, while there's zero sense of the sheer trouser-filling, slippery-palmed panic accompanying the actual business of drugs-smuggling. Like the Golem of Jewish mythology, Holy Rollers has feet of clay.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on real events in the 90s, apparently, Holy Rollers tells the
story of Sam Gold, (Jesse Eisenberg) a Brooklyn Hasidic Jew who,
feeling hemmed in by the predetermined path mapped out for him, becomes
involved in drug smuggling using Hasidic Jews as mules because they
don't - or didn't, at that point - get searched by airport Customs.
I had two problems with this film. One, while I understand that much of Sam's background had to be shown for expositional and dramatic purposes, it wasn't something which I felt easy to get to grips with. Sam's fall from grace therefore didn't have anything like the impact for me that it would for someone from his background. The other was that, for a film which was potentially quite dramatic, I didn't find much drama in it. It was all rather mundane, and drab, and "so what?" Even when potentially dramatic moments arrived (like arguments during drug meets), nothing dramatic happened.
Jesse Eisenberg did well in the thankless role of Sam: for me, though, Ari Graynor was the only thing worth watching, perhaps because she played the only character who was attractive, sympathetic, and who I could identify with.
It's 1998 Brooklyn. Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is an Orthodox Jew. He
works in his father's fabric store. He wants to marry Zeldy Lazar but
he doesn't have the money. His friend Leon's brother Yosef (Justin
Bartha) offers him a job. He asks Leon to join him. They get tricked
into smuggling ecstasy from Amsterdam to New York for Israeli Jackie.
Sam rises in the organization recruiting other Orthodox Jews. Rachel
(Ari Graynor) is Jackie's brassy girlfriend.
I would have liked Sam to be a good guy corrupted into this world. The problem is that he's a money-grubbing selfish kid to begin with. They're also a bit too stupid at the start. As for a crime drama, there is limited drama. It's not that exciting. The premise offers some potential but it's not that compelling.
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