Film review by: Witney Seibold



            A first glance, it would seem that “Redbelt” was way out of character for writer/director David Mamet. It’s a sports movie about how a jujitsu instructor must ultimately win The Big Game in order to redeem himself. But upon closer inspection, “Redbelt” is every bit a Mamet film. The film’s lead character Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor, excellent as usual) is a morally straight altruist who fights to retain purity in his sport. He does favors for strangers, dispenses wisdom to morally bankrupt movie stars, and encounters nothing but trickery and betrayal in return. Like in any Mamet film, no good deed goes unpunished. I have also learned that Mamet himself in an accomplished jujitsu enthusiast, so while he’s ordinarily very hip to the scattershot rhythms of insiders’ shoptalk, he’s particularly on the ball here. “Redbelt” is, therefore, an excellent film.


            Mike Terry runs a Brazilian jujitsu academy which only barely squeaks by, much to the chagrin of his hot Brazilian wife (Alice Braga). Terry’s particular brand of jujitsu is designed for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat, so he has staunchly refused to compete in organized tourneys with it. Mike is a tough teacher who repeatedly shouts slogans and mottos to his students, but still manages to come across as a hard-worker and a generally nice guy.


            In a whirlwind of events, Mike meets a flustered attorney (Emily Mortimer) who accidentally damages his school, has to help his police buddy (Max Martini) out of a compromising bind, and manages to save a famous movie star named Chet Frank (Tim Allen, of all people) from a vicious bar brawl. A combination of consequences, though, has him hocking hot wristwatches, in trouble with the law, in trouble with his wife, fighting to maintain his own intellectual property, and severely in debt. His only option, now, is to compete fro a huge cash prize. Again, since this is a Mamet film, it’s more than likely that Mike was manipulated into this position. Also mixed up in the tangle is: a corrupt sports official (Ricky Jay), a sniveling personal assistant (Joe Mantegna), a loan shark (David Paymer), Mamet’s real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon, and any number of real-life mixed martial arts competitors.


            The film ends on a higher note than most Mamet films.


            The film may not have the explosive emotional moments of a usual Hollywood thriller or a typical hackneyed sports flick, so many audiences may perceive it as subdued or downbeat. But when inspected only a little bit more closely, one can see that it hits all the same beats as said films, manages to be about treachery and compromise, and ends with the same feelings of moral triumph.


            “Redbelt” has a bendy story, clearly defined characters, accurate shoptalk, a deep investment in its own subject matter, and a near-perfect style. It doesn’t live up to the wicked fun of some of Mamet’s other films (he has yet to surpass “House of Games”), but it’s still excellent.

Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: