Rotem Shamir’s thriller series on Netflix, “Rough Diamonds,” is about an Orthodox Haredi Hasidic Jewish family who made their fortune in the diamond trade and incurs a massive blow when the youngest son of the Wolfsons commits suicide inside a diamond store. This sets in motion a series of events that bring out some rather nasty family secrets and expose the shady dealings of a few family members. But most of all, it shows just how flimsy relationships have become in the 21st century while throwing light on the workings of a deeply Orthodox Jewish family.
Estranged brother to Yanki Wolfson, Noah returns to handle the funeral responsibilities because he can’t abandon the family that he’d walked out on in their time of need. He brings his son Tommy along but quickly finds out that the family of diamond dealers is deep in muck, both professionally and within the family. Noah, who’d walked out on the extremely conservative lifestyle of his Hasidic family, took up the life of crime in London, and the skills that he’d picked up during his time there certainly helped him in this eight-part series. Noah finds out that the family is in deep debt because of Yanki’s gambling dues, and he has to set out to relieve the family from its financial woes while maintaining its prestige.
The entire plot revolves around some stolen diamonds, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this deeply twisted family, where insider deals and secrets complicate matters further. Think of the 2006 action/thriller “Blood Diamond” and how the life of Dia Vandy mattered more to his father, Solomon, than any diamond. Now apply the same formula to Netflix’s latest release, only with a few changes here and there. Instead of the war-torn lands of Sierra Leone, we’ve got the intricacies of a generational family in Antwerp, and instead of war and child soldiers, we witness quiet assassinations that silence valuable witnesses. On the one hand, there’s the value and rarity of priceless items like diamonds that can hypnotize the onlooker with their shimmering glow; on the other hand, there’s the mountain of lies and a large amount of blood that’s spilled because of the said stones.
Israeli director Rotem Shamir brings out the exactness of how orthodoxy and restrictions run in a family like that of the Wolfsons, and this religious conservatism forms the backdrop of every interaction within the family, including the way children like Tommy are treated. For example, when Benny Feldman, a highlighted candidate to speak in the trial against the Wolfsons and expose their wrongdoings before a judge, finds out there’s incriminating evidence against his son, he’s made to back out. Threatened with the possibility that rumors of his son being a homosexual might be exposed, Benny has to back out of his plans to testify against the Wolfsons because it might seriously harm his family’s reputation. In recent memory, there’ve been quite a few movies about orthodox Jewish families like “Unorthodox” (2020) or “Disobedience” (2017), but not many have been able to wrap the concept of conservatism as the central backdrop quite like Shamir’s “Rough Diamonds.” This, combined with the extra drama of the sibling quarrels between Eli and Adina regarding their ideas about how to handle the business, as well as the ever-present tension that exists between Noah and Yanki’s widow Gila, makes for the more dramatic aspects of the series. There are several plotlines interwoven in the middle, including the clashing of the Wolfson family and a cousin, Benny Feldman, who initially tries to bring Eli to his side and, upon having his scheme exposed, threatens to expose them during a trial. Although it ultimately doesn’t amount to anything, it shows how familial quarrels and hatred are common factors, irrespective of the religion or the customs followed.
However, there are some areas in the series that might’ve made it a little less appealing, and it’s largely due to the excruciatingly slow pace of the show. Each episode stretches between 50 and 55 minutes, and the eight-part series can take up almost your entire day if you decide to binge it all at once. Sure, the story is well-wrought, and the acting really exudes mastery from some actors, but the show could’ve easily been slashed down to 5 or 6 episodes. There are quite a few subplots and storylines that are created with the aim of giving the characters a little more depth, but they end up adding nothing to the final plot. If you’re the kind of watcher who lives on fast action and prefers to watch events unfold before you instead of hearing about them through exposition, the first few episodes, save the initial suicide, may seem like quite a bore. The various discussions, plans, and long waits around the table can be enough to make viewers want to skip an episode or two. “Rough Diamonds” takes a while to get into the pace and properly introduce all the characters, but once it does, it pulls speed quickly and leaves you impressed by the ending.
Overall, Shamir’s latest creation about a Hasidic Jewish family and an estranged brother’s attempts to resolve familial debts makes for good TV that has plenty of action and engaging drama to keep you hooked. It also serves as a detailed look into the orthodoxy of Jewish families and how it can shape the lives of the people involved. Finally, the series finale really goes out to impress the audience with major twists and an unexpected ending. It also explores the protagonist Noah’s approach to family after being presented as the one who’d walked out on his family because of the suffocating rules and laws. If you don’t mind sitting through some rather long episodes, give “Rough Diamonds” a try while it’s still fresh.