Upon his release from a long prison stint, a man incarcerated into the system since a young boy tries his hand succeeding in the outside world. Alone with no family or friends for support and looking to keep his nose clean, he designs his own set of rules for success, including responsibly checking in periodically with his hardnose parole officer and saving up enough money and knowledge working at a restaurant to open his own. When the path seems clear and everything seems to be falling into place for his chances as success, societal temptations gnaw at him as negative influencers tempt to steer him astray and his own goals try to illicitly fast track his efforts. Will he fall into crooked society’s trap or will he persevere to reach his aspirations?
Hard knocks. That’s the simple, raw core theme of Orson Oblowitz’s “The Five Rules of Success.” The 2021 crime-thriller is the third directorial from the “Corbin Nash” co-producer, but the second penned script following his debut, a seedy L.A. underbelly thriller “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd” from 2017. The story is the first for co-writer Christian de Gallego who steps out of his international sales executive role to put his ideas onto paper. As compelling as any story could be mirroring the struggles of a downtrodden ex-con in a society that browbeats and takes advantage of those on good intentions to rebuild, “The Five Rules of Success” is also a visual quest of imagery and color, produced and distributed by the Ambassador Film Group with de Gallego producing and Apurva Patel as executive producer.
Stepping into his lead man shoes debut is Santiago Segura (“47 Meters Down,” “Scream: The TV Series”) playing the mastermind behind the five rules of success as X, as in X could be anybody. However, X couldn’t have been more invested into than what Segura put into the story’s character as a man left to his own devices, without support, without a comforting presence, and without much guidance. Segura’s range is limited to a monotone stare and tough guy attitude that never wavers or breaks and you have to wonder what X is fighting for to make his ambitious dream a reality? Where does his determination root? The fact that there is an absence in a grounding, sobering symbol all the more makes X more susceptible to the deeper end of society’s morality pool. Along his rise up from the ashes, X meets colorfully sordid individuals feeding off his vulnerability due to either being on probation or stereotyped as being inclined to be favorable toward criminal activity…you know, being released from prison and all. He’s befriended by Danny (Jonathan Howard, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”), a drug using goon who works alongside X at his father’s restaurant. “Crocodile 2: Death Swamp’s” Jon Sklaroff plays the stark contrasted Greek immigrant father, restaurant owner, and disappointed father to Danny. Sklaroff and Howard couldn’t be more adversarial as a hardworking immigrant father who struggled to get to where he is today and a silver spoon fed son throwing his life away with riffraff, drugs, and as the restaurant’s cook. The relationship formed between X and Sklaroff’s character is the wishful dreaming that X couldn’t be the son he never had and all X has to do is be patient and listen to a little friendly advice. A more brazen and mysterious obstacle in X’s path is his parole officer, Emma, whose uppity authority holds X’s freedom in the palm of her hand played by Isidora Goreshter. The line is blurry whether Emma has either the hots for X or is secretly a sadist and Goreshter offers to uphold that inscrutable presence with unscrupulous tactics.
One way to crave out the meaning behind Oblowitz’s film is to not be standing high-and-mighty on greener pastures. “The Five Rules of Success” sensationalizes real time problems with our prison system and the after effects of walking out a free man after years, if not decades, from a life that’s all you know to a life you know nothing about. X’s past burdens him immensely as flashbacks, denoted in literal quick flashed cuts, of the downward spiral turning point in his childhood find their way into his determined route to success. Ultimately, the past and present are one in the same where society sees not a boy, not a man, not a person, but a criminal and how we as a society be contemptuous of former convicts released back into our soicalled perfect public community. There’s parallelism between each chaptered rule and the downward progression he sustains in his associations with the wrong people that start to twist his mindset, his rules, into the very unlawful reprehensible activities he tries very hard to avoid. Oblowitz does a nice job detailing X’s habits as a loner, working out his pent up frustrations by exercising, shadow boxing, and refining his rules, but the root of all evil is hard to ignore as cold hard cash, easy money for one of Danny’s illicit jobs, begins to lay out the possible steps to skip in order to fulfill his own ambition. Despite the momentary monotone mishandlings from Segura, the story is well-written and mostly well played out with some scenes more intense than others with the subject material as you begin finding yourself rooting for the ex-con and booing the very society you yourself live in scot-free.
Clocking in with a runtime at 83 minutes, “The Five Rules of Success” symbolizes the ups and mostly downs in the here and now game of chutes and ladders. Having been released last month, July 30, be sure to check out the unrated feature available for purchase on your preferred platform of either iTunes or Amazon released by the Ambassador Film Group. Oblowitz doesn’t just write-and-direct the film, but he also serves as cinematographer dabbling in a Kafkaesque arranged world with hints of tint, hints of different lenses, hints at overexposures, hints at strobe, and more. Nearly every scene is comprised of a different shooting technique or editing visual that may or may not possibly induce a seizure as forewarned during the preface. Stylistically, I can only compare and describe “The Five Rules of Success” as this: Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.” As far as extras go, there’s a quaint, no major dialogue memorandum scene after the end credits that speaks to vicious circles and permanency. For a L.A. shot film that has more technique than bite, “The Five Rule of Success” is a success of an auteur’s written storytelling as well as the visual understanding of just how to tell that story in a surrealistic context.