Magazine article Screen International

'Orthodox': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Orthodox': Review

Article excerpt

Dir/scr David Leon. UK, 2015. 93mins

One man's life-long struggle agains the demands of his Jewish faith eventually sets him on the path to atonement in Orthodox. This earnest first feature from actor turned writer/director David Leon (a Screen Star Of Tomorrow in 2012) significantly expands upon his short of the same name, retaining most of the cast and crew from the original production. Flirting with an ambitious range of influences from glum kitchen sink social realism to brooding film noir, Orthodox never quite achieves a consistent tone. The Jewish orthodox community presents a relatively fresh setting for a British film but the hero's travails are all too predictable as he is beaten, betrayed and humiliated by life.

Stephen Graham gives a typically committed performance in the central role and his impeccable television credentials in everything from Boardwalk Empire to the recent This Is England 90 might be enough to attract an audience to Orthodox. The commercial fate of recent British features from Catch Me Daddy to The Goob and Just Jim underline the enormous challenge facing Orthodox in trying to connect with a theatrical audience, however.

Graham's Benjamin cuts an old-fashioned figure as a man who will not countenance the possibility of his wife working and who believes "it is my job to provide for my family". Devoted to his wife Alice (Rebecca Callard) and his two sons, Benjamin runs a failing kosher butcher and earns extra cash as an illegal fighter for his shady friend Shannon (a typically sly Michael Smiley). Boxing is the one thing in life that Benjamin does well but flashbacks reveal it is the reason for his estrangement from his outraged father and his faith.

Bullied as a child, he fought back despite warnings that this "is not the way of a yiddisher boy". When Shannon offers Benjamin a way to make easy money, he faces a stark choice that sends him hurtling towards a personal hell. …

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