Jun 14, 2010

Hasidic Jew's path to corruption-Review: 'Holy Rollers'

Review: 'Holy Rollers'

Walter Addiego, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, June 11, 2010

Holy Rollers

 Drama. Directed by Kevin Asch. With Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs, Danny A. Abeckaser. (R. 89 minutes. At the Lumiere in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.)

Justin Bartha (left) as Yosef leads Jesse Eisenberg as Sam Gold into the drug trade in "Holy Rollers."

The subject of "Holy Rollers," Hasidic Jews working as drug runners, sounds like a punch line, but it's based on a true story.

In 1999, an Israeli-born man pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn court to using young members of the sect to import ecstasy pills from Amsterdam. The film focuses on a drug courier portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg ("Adventureland").

"Holy Rollers" offers an intriguing portrait of an insular community, but its recounting of the seduction of a bright young man by the surrounding culture is heavy-handed.

Eisenberg is good as Sam Gold, who works in his father's fabric shop while pursuing rabbinical studies. Several unhappy incidents leave him vulnerable to a neighboring young man, Yosef (well played by Justin Bartha), a Hasidic Jew who's gone over to the dark side and tempts Sam with easy money.

He introduces Sam to drug kingpin Jackie (Danny A. Abeckaser, also one of the film's producers) and his foxy girlfriend, Rachel (Ari Graynor, quite good). Soon Sam is flying across the Atlantic to pick up a shipment of "medicine," and though it's incredible, it takes him a while to figure out that he's transporting drugs.

But the money is good, and he neglects his studies, hangs out in nightclubs and backs into an unwise relationship with Rachel. His family and neighbors shun him, and he starts moving up in the organization.

Director Kevin Asch, working from a script by Antonio Macia, conveys a forceful sense of what Sam has lost, including the respect of his one time best friend (Jason Fuchs), Yosef's younger brother. But something's missing from the depiction of Sam's corruption; it seems to happen without elaboration.

Asch is content to fit the story into an over familiar mold, and is drawn to blunt, obvious contrasts, such as that between Sam's righteous father (well played by Mark Ivanir) and the unscrupulous Yosef.

-- Advisory: Drug content and language, and brief sexual material.

Peace is patriotic.

Michael Santomauro
Editorial Director

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