Is there any sport so cinematic as boxing?
Its grace and brutality lend themselves to celluloid, and especially the breed of tormented protagonist that tends to accompany them. Far from the glossy Hollywood melodramas that have defined the genre in recent years, the astutely named Orthodox counterpoints the sweet science with a new subject: faith.
The writing and directorial debut of actor David Leon, the film tells the story of Benjamin (Stephen Graham), a man whose compulsion to box and marriage to a Gentile has alienated him from the Jewish community into which he was born. Both guided and exploited by local leader Goldberg (Christopher Fairbank), and supposed friend and gym owner Shannon (Michael Smiley), Benjamin makes a series of bad choices that strip from him everything he has known and loved.
A parable about how community support is always conditional, Orthodox never quite succeeds in mining the poetry and desperation from Benjamin’s situation. Accosted in the shops by an elderly Jew who demeans his family, forced to scrub toilets for a living, Benjamin’s existence is one mired in despair – as is the community, with its druggie-filled squats and dodgy land deals. Graham’s face carries a doughty expressiveness, but its only in its brief moments in the ring that the film transcends the kitchen sink.
It might not be able be able to go toe to toe and pound to pound with Southpaw or Creed, but Orthodox is a nicely subdued slice of British drama. If only it packed a bit more of a punch.