By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 21, 2010 at 4:00AM
A good movie starts with an idea. In the case of Holy Rollers, a news item about a drug bust involving Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn, New York inspired a novice producer to believe that this could be the springboard for a film…and he was right. Holy Rollers is a piece of fiction inspired by that factual incident. It’s modest in its ambitions but realizes them fully, in a deceptively simple, stragithforward film that’s both satisfying and thought-provoking.
Jesse Eisenberg is well cast as Shmuel, or Sam, a young man who’s working with his father in the garment business and studying to be a rabbi. Yet he feels restless and dissatisfied, frustrated over his family’s chronic lack of money. This makes him susceptible to the advances of—
—his next-door neighbor’s older brother, played by Justin Bartha, who mentions the opportunity to make some easy dough by transporting “medicine” into the U.S. Sam is naïve, but he also provides himself with a barrier of insularity by not asking questions, at first.
One reason the film works so well is that first-time feature director Kevin Asch manages to capture the look and feel of a traditional Hassidic household and community, as well as the exotic night world of drugs, booze, and women that Sam comes to know—and like. Nothing is stressed or overplayed, and every cast member delivers, including Danny A. Abeckaser (who also produced the film) as an Israeli-born drug dealer) and Ari Graynor as his sexy girlfriend. Hallie Kate Eisenberg, a onetime child actress and Jesse’s sister, plays his disapproving sibling.
What’s more, Antonio Macia’s screenplay gives us food for thought. I found myself wondering what was going through the leading character’s mind at different stages of the story, and how I might have responded if I had been in his shoes. Holy Rollers ranks as one of the year’s top independent films; it’s well worth seeing.