Holy Rollers
dir Kevin Asch
scr Antonio Macia
prd Danny A Abeckaser, Jen Gatien, Per Melita, Tory Tunnell
with Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Danny A Abeckaser, Q-Tip, Jason Fuchs, Mark Ivanir, Elizabeth Marvel, Hallie Eisenberg, Bern Cohen, Stella Keitel, David Vadim
release US 21.May.10, UK 8.Jul.11
10/US 1h29
Holy Rollers
Running from tradition: Eisenberg and Bartha

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R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Holy Rollers Inspired by true events, this darkly involving drug-ring drama holds our interest mainly because we have no idea what will happen to the central character, a smart nice guy played by Eisenberg with a huge dose of charming naivete.

In the Hasidic community in 1998 Brooklyn, Sam (Eisenberg) is clearly struggling to find his place, working for his dad (Ivanir) and betrothed to be married. Then his neighbour Yosef (Bartha), older brother of his best friend Leon (Fuchs), suggests that he could do something on his own, make more money and get more women. So Sam and Leon head to Amsterdam, flying home with a case full of "medicine". When Sam objects, Yosef reminds him that the Jews have been smuggling for thousands of years. And of course the cash helps ease his conscience.

Although the role isn't much of a stretch, Eisenberg is effective in the role, playing the character like a lost little boy (although Sam is 20). Everything is overwhelming to him, especially being around confident women like Rachel (Graynor), the thinly written requisite bad girl. At least Bartha adds contrast as a guy who enjoys the money, drugs and women just a little too much. And the most intriguing relationship is between Sam and the trafficking boss Jackie (Abeckaser), although this isn't very deeply developed either.

The film is shot with an edginess that adds an almost unnerving sense of tension to every scene, especially in some extremely dodgy situations. Although this also means that it drifts dangerously close to melodrama. The drug trafficking business is never glamorised, although it's easy to see the lure of money as they convince themselves that they're only dealing Ecstacy, which is "harmless", right? And while Leon runs a mile, Sam seems able to strike an uneasy balance.

Of course, as the story progresses, we know there will be a sting in the tale, as there isn't a filmmaker on each who can resist the pressure to moralise about crime, especially drug crime. And this story is also linked to a strict religious tradition. But besides this cultural setting, the film doesn't really tell us anything we haven't heard before.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 22.May.11

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