Orthodox is a film with tradition at heart, a story where faith, family and friendship can devastate even the strongest of characters. Director David Leon’s first feature-length is non-conformist in its characters (including a performance from the director himself) and brave in its plot.
Stephen Graham (This Is England, Boardwalk Empire) plays traditionalist Ben Levy, a man constantly struggling to choose between his loyalty to the Jewish community and his need for self-defence. Bullied as a child for his faith, Ben finds salvation in boxing but also disapproval from fellow community members and his doting wife. His misplaced trust in friend Shannon (Michael Smiley) leads him onto a path where his intentions make him vulnerable. After becoming a victim of circumstance, Ben must find his place in a conflicting world that continues to fail him undeservedly.
Stephen Graham’s performance as Ben is precise and minimalist. Director Leon’s character is at times emotionally scarce, only showing sporadic bursts of passion. The raw and almost animalistic fight scenes provide a hint of what Ben is capable of, a man who is driven by the need to provide for his family. Michael Smiley is impressive in his role as the insidious Shannon, corrupted by greed and power. Other notable performances include Christopher Fairbank (The Fifth Element, Guardians of the Galaxy) as the dishonest Goldberg, an authority figure in the community and arbitrator to Ben and Shannon. The relationship between these two men conveys a universal message: one should always choose their company wisely.
The idea of boxing as a saviour for Ben is underdeveloped and could have been made more prominent. However, Leon’s subversion of the classic sports drama is equally refreshing. The jarring movement between the cosy portrayal of family life and the brutal bare-knuckle fighting earns both director and lead recognition. Expanded from a 25-minute short film to a feature-length, Orthodox manages to express the fortitude it takes to overcome challenges.
Orthodox is released in selected cinemas on 13th November 2015.