If you’re a smug atheist like me, you’ll come into Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians looking to shake your fist and roar “Hypocrisy!” at the screen, as you watch this team of evangelicals (of the young, trendy, tattooed, prolific-use-of-the-word-“awesome,” members-of-shitty-rock-bands variety) winning millions of dollars at blackjack tables in Vegas while babbling about “glorifying God.” But you won’t, because this is a pretty good documentary, and so by the halfway mark, these kids will have probably converted you with their genuine niceness, strong moral convictions and infectious positivity—as evangelicals are wont to do.
The main protagonists are two floppy-haired “cool pastor” types from Seattle who learn to count cards (they say it’s easier than it’s made out to be; of this I remain a skeptic) and turn it into a business, commanding a team of other young believers who disperse across the country’s casinos, using math and wacky disguises to beat the house and return a tidy profit to their bosses and investors. Their justification is that card counting is perfectly legal, that it isn’t cheating, and that casinos are horrible, so why not take their money and use it to support their families and/or ministries? The potential sin of greed is largely moderated by paying the players an hourly wage regardless of their wins and losses.
Director Bryan Storkel clearly sides with his subjects over the gaming industry, and the film is weaker for it, but it’s not a difficult stance to defend. There’s a certain anti-authoritarian thrill in cheering as these polite young men systematically rack up the Benjamins, smiling while grizzled casino staff kick them out again and again just for being good at a game.
And then, because this is a pretty good documentary, the good times stop rolling.
What happens when a non-Christian joins the team? What happens when the team starts losing? What happens when God starts speaking to one of the players, informing him of a Judas in the group? Suddenly people aren’t so nice, and our floppy-haired heroes have to face running their business like, well, an actual business—which isn’t always the Christian thing to do.
Oh, you’ll keep the faith through a last-ditch Vegas heist—like Ocean’s 11
with more cargo pants and less cussing. But because this is a pretty
good documentary, you won’t leave a true believer.
75 SEE IT: Holy Rollers screens at the Clinton Street Theater at 7 and 9 pm Friday-Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, Jan. 13-15 and 17-19.