Redbelt (2008) **1/2*

Rated: R
Runtime: 1hr 39min
Director: David Mamet
Stars: Chjwetel Ejiofor, Alice Braga, Emily Mortimer, Tim Allen, Rodrigo Santoro
Genre: Drama
Language: English

Good Gives Bad a Beating

In a Nutshell

Plot

Straight as an Arrow
Twisty

Sound Quality

Easy to Hear
Incomprehensible

Who's That?

Few Main Characters
Lots

Naughty Words

Mild
Foul

Naked people

None
Lots

Violence

Tame
Bloody

Confusion reigns for at least the first 30 minutes of “Redbelt,” with characters popping in and out in unexplained and seemingly unconnected situations. There’s darkness, a threatening air and explicit language.

Some might say, hey, what do you expect; this is a David Mamet movie, written and directed by him in a style one has seen before.

It’s not made any easier at times by the plot itself, which twists and turns from one situation to another, some believable, others laughable. There’s also a feeling at different times that you’re watching one movie within another movie, and that the two don’t really conjoin.

At its heart, however, there is a simple idea: Can the good guy hold on to his principles in the face of financial temptation when his commercial luck is running thin?

The setting is the world of jujitsu, which Mamet himself practices. The choice is a good one, because at their best the Eastern martial arts are taught with a high regard for integrity founded on inner strength.

Luckily the main character, a jujitsu master trying to keep his studio together in a somewhat seedy part of Los Angeles, is played by the Englishman Chiwetel Ejiofor, who turns in an excellent performance.

He brings some believability to the role in a film that rests on some pretty shaky turns of events: a $3,000 gold watch, for instance, that goes from being an unexpected item of pleasure to a precursor of disaster. And a deranged lawyer (Emily Mortimer) who manages by accident to set off a sequence of events that will take Ejiofor to a place he said he would never be.

With his fortunes at such a low ebb, however — even his wife, played by the Brazilian Alice Braga, is getting testy with him — it’s time for the seedy side of Hollywood to step forward.

After coming to the rescue of a faded film star (Tim Allen) in a vicious bar fight, Ejiofor is unwittingly set up by the promoters of sleaze, for whom life holds only one principle: making money at everyone else’s expense.

Ejiofor has consistently refused to take part in prize fights, maintaining that “competition is weakening.” But he finds himself forced to step into the crooked, televised world of anything-goes fighting, which makes orthodox boxing look gentlemanly by comparison.

The fight scenes are vivid, colorful, yet dizzying to watch, while overall the cinematography dwells on the darkness of the mostly interior shots.

Mamet’s direction is often jumpy, and the dialogue is, well, Mametian. But it’s hard to believe that a realist like Mamet could come up with the scene that in effect gave the film its title. It’s one that would be a good fit for a fairy tale.

A lifelong journalist, Terence Neilan started his career in his home country, England, and then moved to New York in 1970. After a couple of years as an editor at The New York Post, he moved to The New York Times, where he worked as an editor and Website reporter for 29 years, retiring in 2005.

Comments

James Bradford said on June 8, 2008

 

Couldn’t agree more. Promises more than it delivers.

Nkechi said on December 5, 2012

 

Is it me or does her picture above look like she is about to hunt down Decker from Bladerunner?!?! She has a stirikng resemblance to Daryl Hannah’s character but without the makeup maybe its just me on a Friday the 13th cause that picture looks scary!!

Pjuan said on August 1, 2015

 

Awesome! L’Amour is my favorite auothr. I also think he would have won the fight considering the criteria given for each fighter. I don’t know of Mamet, but now I’ll check him out. As an older athlete myself, Mamet seems like a good guy.

Seniors, speak up! Let us know what you think.

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