‘The Five Rules of Success’ Creates Stunning Arthouse Vision of the Crime Genre (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: B+

The arthouse crime thriller has had something of a renaissance in recent years thanks to the efforts of the directing team of Josh and Benny Safdie. Their work brought the genre out of the arthouse and into the mainstream with Good Time and Uncut Gems, proving that heady caper flicks can find wider success given the opportunity.

Writer/director Orson Oblowitz seems as though he might be destined for a similar route, given his latest film, The Five Rules of Success. Though nowhere near as taut or brilliant as the works of the Safdie Brothers, Oblowitz carries an undeniable style that serves him well in this film, despite its utter lack of commercial viability.

Don’t let that stop you from seeking this film out, however. Oblowitz’s steadfast commitment to his own vision serves him well in this ethereal, meditational musing on the struggles of trying to outlive one’s past. What The Five Rules of Success might lack in commercial appeal it more than makes up in artistic statement. And the result is as often beautiful as it is harrowing.

The film follows an unnamed ex-con (Santiago Segura) doing his best to walk the straight and narrow path following his release from prison. As suggested by the title, X (as he is referred to in the script) develops a five point plan for personal and business success, which he attempts to put into action in his work at a local restaurant. His big dreams may be derailed, however, as he is pulled in different directions by criminal associates and a hard-nosed parole officer.

Oblowitz creates a sociological and psychological nightmare, seen through the eyes and life of our unnamed protagonist. Though occasionally over the top in his approach, overall the effect is akin to repeated punches to the gut, played out over the film’s scant 80 minute runtime. Oblowitz uses every minute of that time perfectly, creating a vast emotional landscape that allows the audience to really feel the frustration, as well as the hopes, of our ex-con.

Segura understands this well, and subtly encapsulates the confusion felt by his character as his past traumas are confronted and his dreams begin to unfold. He’s a man torn between who he wants to be and who others see him as. In this way, we see the perils that face ex-cons on a daily basis as they re-enter a society that would prefer they didn’t.

The Five Rules of Success is an emotional, terrifying trip into the criminal underworld and the mainstream society that makes it hard to escape. While Oblowitz has a long way to go to reach the heights of the Safdie Brothers, his work here firmly marks him as one to watch. He clearly has a grand cinematic vision and is uncompromising in his goals. This works to great effect in The Five Rules of Success and, hopefully, he’s able to keep that sustained in his future projects.

The Five Rules of Success is now available in iTunes and Amazon Prime.

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