Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t always make great movies, but he does always at least make different movies. And that’s enough to make me keep an eye on his a career. In his first few years, he’d already been in future classics like The Squid and the Wale and The Social Network. Which is more than enough reason to look past absolute shit bombs like Now You See Me and pretentious wanks like Night Moves. It was also enough to make me eager to see Holy Rollers, a movie I’d never heard of until I saw it pop up on Netflix.
It’s the late 90s in Brooklyn, and Sam Gold (Eisenberg) is a good Jewish boy living with his parents, studying to be a rabbi and waiting to have his marriage arranged. Working with his father in his fabric shop, the Golds are working hard for not much reward. An issue that may see his dream girl’s family look for a better financial match when deciding on a husband.
Living next door to Sam is his best friend Leon (Jason Fuchs), and Leon’s older brother, Yosef (Justin Bartha). Leon is a mild mannered, good Jewish boy like Sam. But Yosef is a bit of a rebel. With money being so tight, Sam jumps at an offer from Yosef to fly to Amsterdam and bring back some medicine for rich people. Sam convinces Leon to go with him, and they make it back unscathed. Only, they didn’t bring in medicine for rich people, they smuggled in a crap load of ecstasy. Leon quits the second he learns the truth, but Sam can’t resist the easy money.
Based on a true story, Holy Rollers makes the smart decision to keep things pretty small and realistic. Things never deteriorate into Wolf of Wall Street level indulgence, and Sam’s world is never transformed from one extreme of poverty to another extreme of excess. You can see the decisions he makes being seemingly small enough at the time, that it never seems like a huge swing in character when he ends up more and more involved.
And because of that, it’s hard to hate Sam Gold as well. Even by the end, when he’s playing it pretty fast and loose with other people’s freedom, not just his own, we’ve seen him come to that so gradually, that it’s almost understandable. But at the same time, Holy Rollers never makes Sam Gold a victim either. He makes his decisions and he’s responsible for his actions. It tells Sam’s story, without ever really judging him, or letting him off the hook.
Holy Rollers isn’t a great movie, but it’s a perfect Netflix movie. Next time you’re making your way through that horrible to navigate Netflix menu, mindlessly scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, refusing to commit to anything, you could do a lot worse than landing on this one.