Services like Netflix and YouTube have made it easy to see the movies that have recently come to DVD and be able to enjoy them whenever you desire. Of course, instant view services are also loaded with discarded and forgotten films that only occasionally show their heads from the primordial film abyss. Can we find anything of value in the muck of B-movies, ambitious failures and exploitative crap-fests? We’re going to find out in Dispatches from Instant View Purgatory.
What’re we watching: “Holy Rollers,” a 2010 film by Kevin Asch, appearing for the first time in the director’s chair after writing and appearing in several other truly indie movies.
What does it resemble: If a Hassidic Woody Allen would have directed “100 Pills,” that movie would have been “Holy Rollers.”
What’s going on: Jesse Eisenberg plays Sam, a 20 year old Hassidic Jewish Rabbi-to-be in a poor 1990s Brooklyn neighborhood. His neighbor, Yosef, played by Justin Bartha (Doug from “The Hangover”) initially gives him an opportunity to make some easy money smuggling medicine from Europe into the States. Sam quickly realizes out he’s become an ecstasy mule for an Iranian cartel and finds himself more and more drawn to the life of easy money among more liberated Jews, even as his family and cultural responsibilities start to become at odds with the new life he’s developed.
Why haven’t we heard of this: It’s an unknown director with a smart screenplay and an indie favorite actor as the only recognizable name in the movie. It was pretty much destined for Instant View Purgatory from conception.
What works: Frankly, a lot does. “Holy Rollers” is loaded with beautiful shots of the least beautiful parts of New York, Atlantic City and Amsterdam. Some of the shots as Sam rushes through airports, holding thousands of pills, are stunning in both their ability to capture a familiar location in a unique way and the manner that they build tension. Sam’s slow seduction to the club scene and the way his costuming slowly changes is a subtle way to show how the ecstasy and cartel change him.
What doesn’t: If you’re not familiar with Jewish customs or Hebrew, you’re going to be lost at more than one point in this movie, particularly at the beginning. I think the setup does payoff, but I’m sure there are some people that would be put off by it. The biggest problem of the movie is its ending. I don’t want to say too much because I recommend this movie to curious parties, but I’ll say that if you’ve seen a couple drug dealing movies before, you’ll know how this movie’s going to go after about an hour or so. The characters and cinematography are still smart and unique, but the story isn’t.
Skip to: The scene where Sam and Leon, his early partner, first come back to the airport from Amsterdam is unbelievably tense and beautifully shot. A later trip back to Europe features a scene when Sam, distributor Jackie, and femme fatale Rachel all go to a nightclub. Sam watches as Rachel pops ex and slinks through the crowd, the drugs, dance and promise of sex prove to be as much a paradise as a hellscape for the sheltered Sam and Eisenburg plays the scene with the perfect mix of desire and fear.
The Verdict: “Holy Rollers” captures the international drug trade from a unique angle and shoots it incredibly. Even when the story falters, the relationships get stale and the melodrama goes a little too far, it’s a passionate powerful movie that is more than worth a watch.