STUDIO: CONNELL CREATIONS/PASSION RIVER
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 12, 2012
Some things are just wrong.
We’ve all found us uttering these sentiments when we come across something that common sense tells us just shouldn’t be the case. Some times this is true. Some things are, in fact, wrong. But, there are some things in this world that we initially believe to be wrong, only to later find ourselves not so sure of our initial verdict. That’s how I felt when I watched the documentary film, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. To be honest, some months after having watched the film I am still conflicted about how I feel.
The documentary chronicles the unfolding narrative of a group of guys who decide to learn the art of card counting—a perfectly legal means of stacking the odds in your favor in the game of blackjack. Having learned the game inside and out, the group walk into various casinos around the country and start winning. Sometimes they make out big. Sometimes they don’t.
Oh, and they’re devout Christians. Church planters. Pastors. Laymen. They wittily call themselves the Church Team.
Therein lies the dilemma. And if you think its easy to cast judgment on the practice, it isn’t. There are times where I felt there was deception and justifying sinful behavior, but there were times in the film when I felt deep conviction on the part of the players. Some played to support their families. Some wrestled with the decision to play to the point of eventually bowing out of the practice. One guy even characterizes the game of blackjack as “my calling,” conjuring images of a man pulled between God and Mammon. Like counting cards, nothing comes easy in Holy Rollers.
In the end, I have very conflicted feelings about what I saw. The documentary is well-filmed and does a bang up job of showing the highs and lows of winning and losing tons of money. It also does a good job of showing that the people involved are just like you and me. And it doesn’t pass judgment. It allows the viewer to do that. But, in the end, I haven’t passed judgment because I don’t know what to make of it. On the one hand, its gambling and feeds into an industry that takes advantage of millions of people a year. Then again, the documentary explains that the Bible has no specific prohibition about gambling. What’s more is that there’s far less risk involved when you have figured out how the cards are going to fall.
Bryan Storkel has done a good job of telling the story of the Church Team. It is not the best documentary, but it is done well and I found myself reasonably engaged by the narrative. The “Every Man” nature of the participants rings human and helps connect with the viewer, pulling on the heartstrings here and there. There is neither endorsement or moralizing here. There is only story. A strange story to be sure, but a story nonetheless.
Holy Rollers is well worth your time.
NOTE: Holy Rollers is now streaming on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.