Directed by: Kevin Asch Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Danny A. Abeckaser, Q-Tip Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 4, 2010 (Chicago)
PLOT: A 20-year-old Hasidic Jew (Eisenberg) unexpectedly becomes a plane-hopping drug runner for a dealer in Brooklyn.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Audience members of the Jewish faith might be able to feel more from this movie, but any supporter of low-budget independent dramas will at least be entertained.
Viewers with a more finite understanding of Hasidic Judaism might be better able to fill in the holes this drama's script creates for itself as it rushes to turn from a story of religious quandary to being “Drug Business Movie #367.” Not only do consistently used Hebrew terms float around without definition, but the characters at the center of this unique situation are not given the proper fleshing out, at least in the eyes of someone who can really only view them as regular human beings who can choose to accept or deny shame.
During the second act, there is nothing much at stake for the ambitious 20-year-old Sam Gold except shame, a punishment that makes things a bit plain when compared to the intensity of the situation. With the exception of some shadow-work and a couple of hand-held camera moments, the importance of Sam’s descent into sin’s darkness feels understated by both script and style. Everything feels too calm despite the illegal shenanigans going on between Gold and his non-religious mentor Yosef (The Hangover’s Justin Bartha), another person whose curious character background is also skimmed over. Outsiders to the faith will have to bring whatever understandings of the traditions they may previously have with them to better understand these characters. And if there's any connection to Hasidism philosophy, it is used sparingly here, despite the movie’s mission of visually presenting the audience with the Hasidic Jewish culture.
In this challenging role, Eisenberg has more range than we’ve seen in his latest mainstream works. Here he can be legitimately intimidating or very visibly emotional. He still has a few shreds of the fragility that made him endearing in movies like Zombieland, but these anxieties are placed in an even more unique situation that fits even better for a character that is certainly out of place.
Despite its hooky title, don’t cue the Curtis Mayfield just yet. For the majority of the movie, there is only one “holy roller” until the third act, which is when Sam becomes the wrong form of “shepherd” to a group of trusting yet naïve Hasidic Jews. But this true descent in greed is understated, just as his own dipping of feet into the pool of trafficking is handled too quickly. The acceptance of Sam taking on the drug mule position is difficult considering his smarts, and also his established hesitancy. Of course, coming from a family of humble financial situations, he wants to make some money, but the story doesn’t get underneath the character as well as Eisenberg’s performance does. Surprisingly the only true “holy roller” in the movie, Eisenberg gets the job done despite the script not dealing out its fair share.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10