Attack the Doc: The "21" Edition
Welcome to ATTACK THE DOC! A JoBlo.com feature that explores the world of documentaries and picks out the best among the best, among the best. We'll cover everything from subcultures around the world, to economic collapse, to music and trashy hillbillies from every walk of life. So pop a squat, turn off reality and sit back and enjoy a little slice of someone else's.
HOLY ROLLERS is a 2011 documentary directed by Bryan Storkel.
A card counting Christian walks into a newly opened casino (stop me if you've heard this before), and saddles up to a blackjack table. He's carrying a healthy wad of cash. An early 30s man is dressed up as a milk toast, middle America Republican, complete with beige khakis hiked up mom style, and a hat with the elephant of the Republican party. He's aged himself a few years by growing a goatee with flecks a white. He figures the costume will help with his story of why he's betting such large sums at the blackjack table, should he have to explain that to security. The man is a team member of a card counting, Christian blackjack team. His "team managers" are two young, energetic guys who started the team some years ago. One, Colin Jones, is dressed as a blue collar worker with a ball cap, mullet and a dark wispy goatee. The other, Ben Crawford, is dressed as an extra from The Crow with white face makeup, black lipstick, eyeliner and fingernails. Within an hour or so, security recognizes the team as card counters and tosses them out.
HOLY ROLLERS: The True Story Of Card Counting Christians follows a national blackjack team who's roster includes church leaders, pastors, and worshippers. Ben Crawford and Colin Jones essentially started the team with their mutual thinking being "why not?" When they invited one of their friends to join the team, and trained him in the art of card counting (a demonstration of which is presented in the documentary), that friend brought along another friend and so on. Soon, the team expanded nationally, with most members being devoutly Christian. Their mission: milk the casinos dry. Or at least do the best they can until security "backs them off" the table (meaning to throw them out). The team sees the casino as everything evil and hope to point out the hypocrisy in their advertising, and look to make the industry pay by using the player's advantage over the house (one of the few games where players have the advantage). As one member, a paster, puts it, "Las Vegas advertises this dream of being rich and becoming an instant millionaire. But when you do your best, and start to become rich, they make you stop and kick you out."
Director Storkel does a great job of bringing me into this world and making me feel a part of the team. Between his interviews with team members and the co-founders, the hidden camera that follows team members in the casino, and even the interviews with casino security, I felt like I was a part of this world. Storkel shows how the team operates very much like any small business. Investors invest money to the team managers, who distribute a bankroll to each team member. The team member uses their training in counting cards to (hopefully) make a profit. Regardless of the profit/loss, the member is given a wage for worked hours. And though members speak about being Christians and what led them to their place on the blackjack team, the co-founders often come off non-chalant about religion in general and don't perpetuate their faith as openly as other members do. In fact, when one member claims to make certain bets or how he pulled in a huge hand, explaining that God spoke to him, another member dismisses his claim saying he'd never say anything like that on camera because he'd be looked at as crazy. The juxtaposition of differing views and how the interviews are edited is really well done in this way and plagued me with the same question through out the whole movie and even after: Are they Christians who learned card counting to be a part of the team, or card counters who occasionally believe in order to be a part of the team? For me, it could go either way. And I like not knowing that answer.
I've seen quite a few casino/card game documentaries, but HOLY ROLLERS provides a really unique angle, rolling up the subject of casinos, religion and card counting in one neat package. Director Bryan Storkel spent 3 years with the team in order to make the documentary and it paid off well. There's great hidden camera footage, security footage that tracks the card counters methods and a non-Christian member who's accused of stealing money from the tight knit group. Did he do it? I ain't spoilin' shit!
|Extra Tidbit:||During the team's run, Investors received a 35% annual return on their investment.|