Orthodox – Review

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Where religion is concerned, Orthodox Judaism is one that is somewhat underrepresented in cinema (and mainstream media, for that matter), with few films featuring characters who stringently subscribe to this particular faith. But David Leon has shone a light on this community with his debut endeavour, letting us in to an unfamiliar environment and yet abiding by the notion that deep down we’re very much all the same, irrespective of our religious beliefs.

Stephen Graham plays Benjamin, who adheres to the laws and ethics of the Torah, and was consequently bullied at school. Wanting to protect himself, he took up boxing – and while passionate about the sport, with a wife (Rebecca Callard) and children to think about, he has to put his safety first. But with the family-run butchers struggling financially, he realises that the only way to provide for his family is to step back into the ring and make some money – but it comes at a cost, as it means rekindling his relationship with the vindictive, tyrant of a trainer Shannon (Michael Smiley) – who has other plans for this impressionable, vulnerable man.

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Benjamin, for all his flaws, is a protagonist we can identify with, and while living a very different life to our own, he remains relatable thanks to his imperfections. Leon shoots himself in the foot however, as the character takes a backseat in the latter half, following the superfluous introduction of Daniel (Giacomo Mancini). This is sadly indicative of a picture with too complex and convoluted a narrative, carelessly steering away from simplicity on occasion, and it’s to the film’s detriment.

Thankfully, however, Graham turns in a remarkable performance, as is expected from this enigmatic character actor. He is matched at every turn by the irrepressible Smiley, who is harrowing as the film’s primary antagonist. It is thanks to lead performances like this which ensure this low-budget drama transcends expectations and feels a lot bigger than it really is.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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