Tuesday, March 06, 2012
Bryan Storkel’s Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians focuses on the Church Team, an organized crew of predominantly Christian blackjack card counters. Ben Crawford and Colin Jones’s crew are bankrolled by independent investors, and they head out into the casinos to turn a profit through their card counting skills.
As the documentary unfolds, we get a good luck at the ups-and-downs of card counting, as the crew faces streaks of both good and bad endeavors. At the same time, casinos aware of these “advantage” players are ever-vigilant, “backing off” players from the blackjack table, and sometimes the casinos; if the casino refuses to allow them to play, their card counting skills become far less effective. And considering the card counting technique can require hours spent at a table losing before the deck turns and the player can start winning, a proper “back off” can out-cheat the cheaters.
Additionally, just because the crew is known as the Church Team, and many share the same Christian beliefs, the same problems that occur in any group, and any group involved with the pursuit of cash, rears their ugly heads. Are all the players doing the work correctly? Is anyone stealing from the group? Do personalities gel?
If you’re looking for a documentary about a bunch of devout Christians who entirely justify their card counting behavior via their religion, you’re going to be disappointed. While the Christian aspect is an important one (it is in the title after all), this is more about a group of card counters who just so happen to be Christian too. Substitute the “Christians” in the title with “golfers” or “spelunkers” (or other types of people) and you’ll get an idea of what I mean; it’s a common trait of this particular crew, but it is not the defining characteristic of this film. This isn’t a case of a bunch of Christians seeking card counters, but card counters who realized that they share the same faith, so why not group together?
And you’re probably not going to watch this and suddenly understand card counting and go out and make thousands upon thousands of dollars. While it makes the technique somewhat more understandable (and takes it out of the realm of otherworldly and superhuman to something you can learn if you dedicate time and money to it), you’re going to need to do much more outside research and practice. Plus, after seeing how much goes into it, is it really worth it at all?
Between the casinos backing off players to the sheer amount of time and money flow required to make a huge payoff, it’s like cheating… as a job. I mean, as far as get rich quick schemes go, card counting is more like a longtime study group that may or may not pay off huge dividends. Given enough time, and the right moves, sure, you run a probable chance of coming out on top… but everything has to be done just right. Meanwhile, if it even looks like you might have an advantage, all it takes is a casino employee with a hunch that you may be a card counter to disrupt your dreams.
Holy Rollers looks slick for a documentary, and despite utilizing the talking heads-style approach, it does so with an eye for interesting composition; Ben’s interview segments are set up primarily with him sitting at a table covered with children’s toys while he smokes a cigar, for example. The editing flows well, and the film remains entertaining throughout, even when the crew hits its rough patches.
While there are definitely informative aspects to this film, Holy Rollers is mainly the journey of the Church Team, warts and all. It’s an entertaining film that presents everything as upfront and objective as one can, and while some of the more dramatic aspects of the story beg for a bit more information or investigation, you can understand if those involved didn’t want to directly address certain things. So an ambiguity remains, but that works with the film because the entire affair is questionable; is cheating, regardless of the justification, or where the money eventually ends up, the most Christian of activities? You could argue in circles if you wanted to, and the best part of this documentary is its ability to keep things that open, without turning into propaganda for the Church Team.
My take: Jesus Christ! The count was "plus heaven!"