Tribeca 2018: Obey
Sunday, April 22, 2018 at 3:33PM
JA in Marcus Rutherford, Reviews, Tribeca, film festivals

by Jason Adams

A pack of teenagers walk towards the camera in the opening shot of Obey - goofing off, sex talk, up to no good. Before you know it one of them has smashed a car window - improbably the window-smasher, all seemingly eight feet tall of him, doesn't even register at first. Leon (Marcus Rutherford) is all long limbs but vanishing into the periphery at the same time. A wallflower on skinny stalks, he's too big not to notice, and yet.

Leon uses those long limbs to awkwardly straddle a socio-economic divide from the dingy flats of no-rent London towards a more stable ground - he is trying, and failing, at upward mobility. There's a great small scene in the center of the film where he goes job-hunting on an unthought-through lark - he just randomly walks into the middle of an office and asks a man sitting at his computer for work. It doesn't go well.

Obey is smart enough to not play this as a joke...

Leon, the product of a broken home and a broken neighborhood, hasn't been given the language, the skills, for class osmosis. He's definitely a smart kid, decent and well-meaning, but everybody keeps telling him just to box. They keep balling his hands up into fists but Leon just wants to loose his fingers, to drag them through the water and relax a little bit.

Set during the Occupy Riots of 2011, life has bad plans for Leon. The city closes in, suffocating off any and all exit strategies - these kids run down one alleyway and they're more than likely to find a wall of cops at the other end. Even at its dreamiest the London of Obey is a drainage ditch, a canal for rusted flatbeds to drift along nowhere-going. A circle of abandoned warehouses, tagged and cinched.

If that sounds hopeless... well it often is, and I'm not sure Obey entirely sticks its tragedy, which you see coming from too far and wish it'd found another way. Thankfully its anchored by a remarkably strong and emotionally deft debut from Marcus Rutherford as Leon - I got the same feeling watching him that I got watching Charlie Plummer in King Jack at Tribeca a couple years back; this kid's putting it all out there, and to great return. Leon is unsure where his big mitts are leading him, like every 19 year-old is, but he's got to keep pushing. And damn the glass that gets in his way.

Obey plays Tribeca Mon 4/23 (5:00 PM), Tues 4/24 (5:30 PM), and Thu 4/26 (9:15 PM)

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