By Hemanth Kissoon
Getting sucked into a life of illegality is a staple of the crime genre in both film and literature. There are not just repercussions for the lead, but those caught in the crossfire. It was so well explored earlier this year in ANIMAL KINGDOM, and more superficially but entertainingly so in VIVA RIVA currently on release. It’s all about adding a fresh twist. The above were given a geographical spin, with the former injecting Greek tragedy and consummate filmmaking. HOLY ROLLERS adds a cultural twist, setting drug-trafficking in a pre-millennium Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York.
Hot off THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Jesse Eisenberg’s Sam Gold is a good son, 20 years old, and ready to get married. His bride has been chosen for him, and he is attracted to her physically. He’s never talked to her. Sam is an innocent or naive, however you want to look at him, and god-fearing – but not as much as your originally suspect, as Sam takes to drug-smuggling, after the initial bump, quite easily. His moral compass does veer, interestingly so, as we wonder where he will draw a line in the sand that he won’t cross. Eisenberg is his reliable self. There was a time where he looked as one note as Michael Cera (whose note I really like by the way), but the more movies he does, the greater the shades he demonstrates.
The film also intrigues in why Sam pursues the course he does. There is a ying and yang throughout: religion vs. capitalism; modernity vs. tradition; freedom vs. ritual; liberty vs. safety; and curiosity vs. boredom. Like many of Oliver Stone’s back catalogue, there two older figures vying for his soul – his father and Justin Bartha’s Yosef. The duality theme is well done. However, the aftermath of Sam’s actions are not explored satisfactorily; in another film that is perhaps fine, but here there is a set up of moral impetuses that require further delving – it ends too abruptly. Wanting more is no bad thing, but without the more the film feels like it is following a too well trodden path.