“The Five Rules of Success” is a compact, artful and blunt take on an ex-con’s life “outside,” re-entering a world tempered by violence and fraught with the perils of recidivism.
Writer/director/cinematographer and co-editor Orson Oblowitz immerses us in a very-indie drama that covers familiar ground with gritty style and feverish flourishes.
We meet out unnamed “hero” (Santiago Segura) on the day he gets out of Chino, his every worldly possession stuffed into a single cardboard box.
He has a probation officer (Isadora Goreshter) who is full of warnings and reminders that “parole is a privilege… consider yourself on prison vacation, for now.”
He gets an apartment and buys a mattress for the floor. And he lands a job making deliveries for the Olympus, a Greek restaurant owned by a Greek (Jon Sklaroff) willing to give a con a chance, with the “first time you mess up” threat built in.
This is life with zero margin for error.
But this ex-con has plans, and a means of recording his self-motivational musings, “rules of success.” “Rule I), Aim High, be delusional…Rule III), Manifest Goals into Reality: Focus, discipline and perseverance.” He has “Solve et coagula,” a Latin expression for something that must be broken down before they can be built anew.
Our hero faces many obstacles and temptations, such as customers who stiff him on their deliveries, shoving drugs in his hands for payment. His probation officer is drunk on her power, threatening him at every turn. And the boss’s son (Jonathan Howard), a cook at the restaurant, is straight-up bad news, a bad influence who does drugs and runs “errands” for a local gangster (Roger Guenveur Smith).
And then there’s the hero’s haunted past, flashbacks that start as a blur of violence and eventually coalesce into a depressingly familiar “How he got here” story.
The acting is solid, the settings seamy and the messaging both surprising and poignant.
Oblowitz weaves all this into a rough-cut but seamless stream-of-consciousness narrative, taking us into a life lived as a post-prison parable, every familiar pitfall rendered into something fresh, hard and documentary real.
MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, drug content, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Santiago Segura, Jonathan Howard, Jon Sklaroff, Isidora Goreshter and Roger Guenveur Smith.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Orson Oblowitz. An Ambassador Film release (on Amazon July 30).
Running time: 1:23