Hasidic drug mules add another dimension to this rise-and-fall crime movie.
Narcotics distributors have found some ingeniously creative ways to smuggle drugs, but for sheer chutzpah, you have to admire how an Israeli criminal employed Hasids to bring Ecstasy into the United States during the 1990s. Kevin Asch’s debut feature doesn’t aim for a Dateline-style exposé of the subject; this real-life scheme merely serves as the engine for a culture-clash tale involving a young Orthodox man (Eisenberg) chafing against the strict, stifling rules of his faith. His father doesn’t value him, the rabbi won’t offer a blessing for a marital prospect, and his efforts to get some extra gelt go nowhere. When a black-sheep neighbor (The Hangover’s Bartha) enlists this meek innocent in some international “medicine” importing, the boychick is appalled. Then a local kingpin (Abeckaser) starts to appreciate his smarts, and guess who suddenly realizes he’s got a knack for illegal activity?
Set in Brooklyn’s Hasidic ’hoods, Holy Rollers walks a fine line between exoticizing this insular community and exploring it through the lens of a gritty, James Gray–like genre piece, and its early scenes bristle with an exciting sense of friction. Once the old-world-vs.-crime-world narrative properly kicks in, however, a feeling of predictability prevails: We know that the boss’s flirty moll (Graynor) equals trouble, that Bartha’s bad boy will push things too far and that pride telegraphs our hero’s inevitable fall. Still, it’s gratifying to see Eisenberg move past nerdy-cutie parts; his slim shoulders, it seems, are capable of handling more than Michael Cera’s leftovers.—David Fear
Dir. Kevin Asch. 2010. R. 89mins. Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Danny A. Abeckaser.