Holy Rollers tells the story of Sam Gold, a young Hasidic Jew trying to find his place in life. His father pressures him to follow in his footsteps as a Rabbi, but Sam isn't so sure that a life of faith is what he wants. Sam is frustrated with his living situation, he lives in a small house with his family and a stove that barely works. His father tries to explain to him how money isn't everything, and Sam begrudgingly agrees.
When the girl Sam is arranged to marry abruptly breaks it off after seeing Sam's house for the first time, Sam is certain it is because of his family's financial situation. One night while taking out the trash, Sam is approached by fellow Hasidic Yosef Zimmerman, whose charming and charismatic personality masks a life of rejection from his family. Yosef isn't like the other Hasidic boys in that he frequently swears, indulges in pornography, and eventually hard drugs. Yosef explains to Sam how he's recently been employed by a "special doctor" to "transport medicine" from Amsterdam to the United States. Sam notices Yosef now wears a Rolex watch, a sign of his new-found wealth. Yosef offers Sam a job with the doctor, but Sam is reluctant to accept at first. He tells Yosef he's already employed by his father, but it's clear that Yosef's job offer has piqued Sam's interest.
After some persuading and shifty language, Sam agrees to make a trip to Amsterdam to transport the medicine, which unbeknownst to him, is Ecstasy. In order to make the trip, Yosef agrees to let Sam bring his best friend and Yosef's little brother Leon along with him. The transport goes off without a hitch, and no one suspects Sam and Leon to be drug smugglers due to their appearance. Upon returning to New York, Sam is paid a hefty sum and quickly accepts a second trip, mesmerized by the prospects of earning so much money so easily. Leon, disgusted with the true nature of the trips, quickly disassociates himself from the two of them after returning home from the first trip.
Sam at Customs
After completing a few more trips, Sam is introduced to Jackie Solomon, an Israeli drug lord who immediately takes a liking to Sam. Yosef and Sam quickly become acquainted with Jackie's inner circle, and soon begin taking trips to Amsterdam almost every weekend, distancing themselves from their families and raising suspicions on the true nature of the trips. Sam and Yosef dabble in Ecstasy, and eventually Yosef develops a Cocaine habit that clouds his judgment and causes him to start making side-deals behind Jackie's back.
Back in New York, Sam's father confronts him on the weekend trips, but Sam refuses to disclose the real reason for his
Sam and Yosef
flights. Sam uses the money earned from the smuggling to buy his family a new stove, but they refuse to accept it. Sam begins falling asleep during services and rumors begin to spread about him and Yosef's involvement in the drug trade. Leon stops talking to Yosef altogether, and a Rabbi even visits Sam at home to confront him on the rumors. Sam denies any involvement with drugs, but his double life becomes increasingly difficult to cover up.
Sam struggles to get Yosef to stop dealing on the side, fearing punishment from Jackie, who already feels threatened by Sam's surprisingly effective business strategies. One night during a side deal, Yosef, intoxicated, starts a fight with the buyers that ends with the two barely escaping with their lives. Sam knows the end is near, but cannot do anything to stop it.
In a montage Sam is shown training more and more Hasidics in the art of getting past customs, while slowly losing his identity as a Jew. He begins to dress more casually and only dons the vestments and hat when at home or making deliveries. He becomes careless, and when a drug-sniffing dog detects the Ecstasy in one of his protege's suitcases, Sam makes a break for it, quickly escaping the airport and getting back to Yosef, who is strung out on Cocaine. Sam desperately tries to explain to him that everyone at the airport will turn them in to the authorities, and Yosef hurriedly tries to assemble an escape plan. He tells Sam about a friend he has in California where they can lay low for a while. He gives Sam a meeting place to pick him up, but Yosef is intercepted by police before he can get to Sam. Defeated, Sam walks back home, where he seeks to reconcile with Leon. The two meet on the porch of Leon's house, with Sam merely saying "I need help." as sirens close in on his house.
Reception: Critical and Financial
Released independently, Holly Rollers grossed a mere $303,064 at the box office. it was released on DVD on October 19, 2010, and released simultaneously on Netflix Instant Streaming. It sharply divided critics, and holds a 50% score on review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com. Some criticized the film's shallow plot and cliched script while others praised it for Eisenberg's performance and strong supporting cast. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune praised Eisenberg's performance and gave the film a favorable review.
Faithfulness to Actual Events
Holy Rollers is said to be an accurate depiction of the real use of Hasidic Jews as drug mules during the late '90's. At the film's epilogue, it is said that the real-life Sam and the rest of the couriers became federal informants and spent 28 months in a federal boot camp. Jackie and Yosef were sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy charges. Federal officials estimate that in the short span of under six months between 1998 and 99, one million ecstasy pills were smuggled into the country through this relatively small operation.