Orthodox Review



Generally speaking, Orthodox Judaism is a culture somewhat unexplored in cinema, with few filmmakers casting their eye over this specific approach to the aforementioned religion which subscribes stringently to a very certain way of living, adhering to the laws and ethics of the Torah. It’s not just cinema either, this strand of Judaism is one we rarely see explored in the mainstream media, which is what allows for David Leon’s directorial debut Orthodox to stand out from the crowd, letting us in to an unfamiliar environment.

Benjamin (Stephen Graham) was bullied at a young age for being Jewish, so he took up boxing, initially beginning as a means of self-defence. However he’s now got a wife (Rebecca Callard) and two young kids to provide for, and with the family-run butchers suffering in a challenging climate, he knows that in order to make money, he needs to step back into the ring, lured in by the prospect of cash by his supposed friend, and trainer, Shannon (Michael Smiley). But the latter, who is a mean-spirited, tyrannical and manipulative man, has other ideas for the susceptible, forlorn Benjamin, who is unwittingly led down a dark and dangerous path.

Leon has crafted a protagonist we can identify with, revelling in his flaws and imperfections to make for a distinctively human role. We get to know him intimately, allowing us to relate to his everyday struggles, proving that irrespective of what religion you may be, or how fervently you may practise, deep down we’re all the same. Leon uses the religion as a means of employing the tropes of the genre at hand, simplifying it to a story of a man going against the grain, rebelling the societal pressures placed upon him.

What also helps, significantly, in bringing the role of Benjamin to life, is the sheer talent and credentials of Graham, who remains of our England’s most absorbing, and remarkable performers. When sharing the screen with Smiley, in a handful of harrowing, vitriolic sequences, suddenly we transcend being a mere, low-budget indie, with a distinct level of class, (and deep intensity) instantly added to proceedings. It’s a shame however that Graham takes something of a backseat in the latter stages, as the character Daniel (Giacomo Mancini) is introduced, as we deviate frustratingly away from the core character study, becoming needlessly convoluted as we approach the finale.

There is undoubtedly a lot to be admired about Orthodox, but you can’t help but feel somewhat underwhelmed considering the potentially compelling premise, and the impressive cast assembled to present it. A future in cinema most certainly beckons for Leon, but his inexperience is detrimental to this endeavour, epitomised in the persistent, fade to black edits, which don’t really work, and are sadly emblematic of a film that bears a lot of promise, but just hasn’t got enough quality.