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No writer knows how a con game ticks better than David Mamet. He's proved it repeatedly as a playwright (Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo) and a filmmaker (House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner). So you sense a sting in Redbelt when Mamet zooms in on ethics in the person of Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Gulf War veteran who runs a jujitsu studio in L.A. according to strict samurai code. To Mike, there's shame in competition, which puts him up against the American way as he is prodded to go for the jackpot on the mixed-martial-arts circuit. Though MMA figures in Redbelt, Mamet, who studied jujitsu for five years, is more interested in the philosophy that understanding will defeat strength. With uncanny skill, Mamet directs the movie like a moral combat sport in which a variety of techniques are used to crush Mike's spirit. His wife (Alice Braga) pleads with him to get them out of debt. A crooked fight promoter (Ricky Jay) gives him the means. A cop student (Max Martini) and lawyer (Emily Mortimer) unwittingly combine to tighten the vise. An action-movie star (Tim Allen, superb at lacing charm with venom) and his producer (Joe Mantegna) offer to pay Mike for ideas they intend to steal. And finally, in a battle fought with a Brazilian champion (John Machado) outside the ring, Mike finds his way back to honor. At the center of this quiet storm of a movie, beautifully shot by There Will Be Blood Oscar winner Robert Elswit, Ejiofor confirms his status as one of the best actors anywhere. Born in London to Nigerian parents, Ejiofor can do film drama (Dirty Pretty Things) and comedy (Kinky Boots) and win raves onstage (as Othello). The resonant stillness he brings to Redbelt pulls you in. Even allowing for a few slips in pacing and judgment, Mamet is on his game, and that is a sight to see. No con.
I’ll give my two cents; the audience WILL be misunderstood in the existence of Redbelt. And many people will be disappointed for what it really is. Considering the advertisement and its synopsis, we are expecting Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport or even The Karate Kid for grown up kind of vibe. But everyone who familiar with David Mamet's works will know what they have to be expected.
Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and self-defense instructor who imparts upon his students the skills to survive on the street, rather than prevail in unarmed combat sports. A series of circumstances brings Terry in contact with popular movie hero Chet Frank (Tim Allen) and a legion of Hollywood movers and shakers. Terry soon finds himself the victim of a con and, combined with a destitute financial situation, is pressed to enter the ring for pride and profit. (Courtesy by wikipedia)
It's good once in a while that we have so called “action” movie that really took itself seriously. For years, that movie genre has been exploited for an act of vengeance and guilty pleasure. Warrior’s “Code of Honor” is no longer has its pride anymore in those film. Redbelt might be another film that talks about it. But that's what they did. They TALKED about code of honor. I heard that David Mamet studied martial arts for years. And it’s shown. I'm delighted that all Miyaki-like pseudo-moral code has taken into reality level. Our protagonist in Redbelt didn't just talk and act in the way that will made him respectable. We know that he really lives by it. And that’s made us believe that he is indeed a warrior.
David Mamet is the name that couldn’t go wrong. His greatness is an ability to carry his characters toward the edge of emotion. The best example is in his talk-fest extravaganza Glengarry Glen Ross where you can see how incredibly detailed and emotional packed that he injected into the script. Even a lesser known like Spartan, Val Kilmer's character is still bad ass without being an asshole. I think what he did in Redbelt, even it's not his masterpiece or anything, is like a breeze of fresh air. And he really deserves a credit for open a new way for action movies.
I think Chewetel Ejiofor should also deserve a special recognition by everyone on this planet by now. He was great in films like Talk to Me, Dirty Pretty Things. And even how less significant in his role sometimes was (Four Brothers, Children of Men), but he's just worth every damn seconds. In Redbelt, his subtlety is the best feature in his performance. He's like a quite warrior who chose not to abuse power that he has. There’s one scene when someone told him that he addicted to poverty. It's not that he chose to live in poverty; he just holds on to his belief and let the plot solved by itself. And if the poverty is all he has got, so be it.
As I mentioned, this film is not definitely for everybody. Just like someone said to Jim Jarmurch's Ghost Dog that they were tricked by its advertisement. Redbelt is also live on its faulty advertisement as "pure adrenaline pumping" action movie. But, be that as it may, I think the last act of the film is indeed pure adrenaline pumping (in a totally different reason). And even if it has got one of the most faux-ending I've ever seen, but I think I have to be honest to myself. It just doesn't matter anymore, he DESEARVED it.
Thanks for checking out our Redbelt review. If you’d like, you can watch the video version of our Redbelt review at the bottom of this post.
I’ve been a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts ever since I saw UFC #2 many many years ago. I still remember very vividly watching Royce Graice, a skinny little guy absolutely mow through men 2 and 3 times his size and weight. All these flashy fighters with their punches, flying kicks and spinning back fists were all made totally useless as Gracie always got them on the ground (where their flying kicks were meaningless), tied them up like a cobra, and then would either choke them out or make them tap (give up). Suddenly the world knew about Jiu-Jitsu and the real world of MMA was born.
So when you bring along a movie that appears to focus on the art, and it stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (who I’ve been a huge fan of ever since seeing him in Serenity a couple of years back) it instantly gets my attention. And so here comes “Redbelt”.
THE GENERAL IDEA
The synopsis for Redbelt looks like this: “Tim Allen and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in writer/director David Mamet’s martial arts drama concerning a jujitsu master who becomes corrupted by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. When a respected jujitsu master (Ejiofor) eschews a lucrative prizefighting career in favor of opening a self-defense dojo, it appears that he has chosen a peaceful path in life. The dedicated martial artist’s fate takes an unanticipated turn, however, when he is manipulated into participating in ultimate fighting championships by a group of unscrupulous actors and fight promoters. Later, as the master is being relentlessly beaten in a dirty street fight, he connects with a high-profile action star (Allen) with serious marital problems. Realizing that the only way to regain his honor is to step into the ring, the jujitsu master reluctantly prepares for the fight of his life.”
Surprise surprise, Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic in it. Not only did he look convincing performing the martial arts (which is often a big flaw in many of these types of movies) he also just gives a great performance. A troubled warrior who is trying to lead a peaceful existence suddenly confronted with doubt, adversity, betrayal and the weaknesses in his own character as well. Very well played.
One of the worst things about any sort of “fight” movie (karate, boxing, street fighting, whatever) is that they often look good, but have zero levels of believability because every single punch or kick that gets thrown would knock out a normal human being… and these fights inevitably end up having massive haymakers landing with every shot. Redbelt avoids that trapping and just has the fights look like real fights without the flashy glamour of knock out power shots with every punch. It’s not as flashy to look at on screen, but it adds to the authentic feel.
Surprisingly enough Tim Allen wasn’t that bad in the film. I rolled my eyes the moment I heard he was in this, but I’ve got to admit he was pretty good. It was a different sort of character for him and he did it pretty well.
If the combat looked believable in the movie… then that was the only believable part of the whole damn thing. The plot was so full of imagination defying nonsense and unrealistic scenarios that I spent a good part of the movie with my face buried in my hands. It’s hard to go into it too much without crossing into spoiler territory… but it just seemed like EVERYTHING that happened in the movie was not the way it would have happened in real life. It was so bad… gaahhhhh!!! I can’t say way it was bad because it would be a train of spoilers. Let me put it like this: The concept and general idea of the film were quite good… but the actual fleshing out and execution of the story was pathetic.
Aside from Chiwetel, all the characters were paper thin as far as depth goes.
Redbelt is a terrible movie that is ALMOST saved by authentic looking martial arts with a great character and a wonderful performance given to that character. Everything else surrounding that character was an unbelievable insult to human intelligence. So while there are some redeeming qualities to the film, I ended up just hating the flick. Overall I’m giving Redbelt a 3.5 out of 10.