Thursday 7 July 2011

Holy Rollers review (The List, Issue 682)

Released over a year ago in the US, this true-life drama about naïve young Hasidic Jews unwittingly smuggling Ecstasy into Brooklyn in the late 90s would probably have skipped UK cinemas entirely if not for the presence of Jesse Eisenberg, whose star status has increased considerably following his acclaimed turn in The Social Network. Here he plays Sam, a devout 20-year-old Hasid, beginning to see the cracks in his family’s sheltered religion. When rebellious neighbour Yosef (excellently played by The Hangover’s Justin Bartha) offers him the opportunity to make money importing ‘medicines’, Sam’s eyes are opened to a very different side of the world.

As a drug-smuggling drama, Holy Rollers is conventional, predictable stuff, but Kevin Asche’s film is compelling in its focus on Sam’s relationship to his faith; this element layers some much-needed complexity into the film’s formulaic coming-of-age storyline. It is not a simple case of Sam rejecting his faith and embracing a life of crime; his Judaism continues to define him, and that internal tension of living with inescapable religious conviction while trying to in some way break free is subtly and effectively given flesh in Eisenberg’s understated performance.

Selected release from Friday 8 Jul. This review first published in The List magazine.

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