Following the strikingly scuzzy debut of The Queen of Hollywood Blvd, director Orson Oblowitz (son of No Wave-pioneer Michael Oblowitz) takes another plunge into the underbelly of L.A. with The Five Rules of Success, this time through the eyes of a young ex-con figuring out what it takes to rise to the top of the trash heap.
“When I was a boy, they treated me as a man. Now that I’m a man, they treat me as a boy.” So goes the refrain spoken by X (Santiago Segura), freshly released from Chino as a young man after spending most of his adolescence behind bars for his part in a domestic incident that still haunts his dreams. Nevertheless, X sees himself as an entrepreneur and immediately sets about formulating a plan to obtain his piece of the American Dream, despite having no friends or family to lean on. When a kindly restaurateur named Avakian takes him in and gives him a job, things seem to be looking up for X. But everything from his corrupt parole officer to Avakian’s actual hooligan of a son to the everyday financial pressures of making it conspire to push him back into the world of crime.
Oblowitz’s hyper-real aesthetic owes much to arty provocateurs like Gaspar Noé and Nicolas Winding Refn and the way the film structures itself as an actual handbook to success comes off like some sort of new-era Fight Club. But underneath the stylistic posturing is a hard-hitting indictment of how easily America fails its underprivileged citizens, anchored by a magnetic performance from Segura that will have you rooting for his success the entire way. It may not be much of a surprise where this story ends, but that ultimately just speaks to the depressing inevitability of the real world.