My questions in bold. Gelf’s answers below!
1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?
I came late to the party as I recall. After seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor in Firefly (2005) I was very impressed by his acting skills. Later on I had a chance to meet him on the set of Salt in 2009 (a film my brother was working on which they were shooting in DC) We got to chatting a little bit about editing and stuff while we were waiting for a scene to be reset and he mentioned Redbelt as something which had some of the most straightforward but effective editing he’d seen. I was a bit embarrassed that I’d never heard of it, and even more so when he casually name dropped that it was written and directed by David Mamet! Jeez, did I feel like a schlub. Anyways, I rented it straight away and was blown away.
2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?
I think this film is barely on the pop culture radar at all, and as such it is woefully under appreciated. It’s one of those films with a fairly limited target audience but which I think many would enjoy if they gave it a chance.
4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?
I am blogless and fancy free. My only plug is to watch the film.
Thanks Gelf! My review is below!
Written and directed by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), “Red Belt” is the story of a struggling Jiu Jitsu instructor named Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who won’t fight competitively. It’s his philosophy that martial arts knowledge should be used for self-defense only, and not for profit or fame. Though this earns him respect from his students and peers, financial difficulties are straining the relationship between he and his wife (Alice Braga).
When an unstable woman (Emily Mortimer) crashes into his car out front and wanders into his dojo one night, a string of unlikely events is set in motion, beginning having the front window of his studio broken. After going to see his brother-in law to see if he can get a loan to replace the window, he finds himself defending a movie star (Tim Allen) in a bar fight. Before he knows it, he and his wife are getting a taste of the high life, as he’s invited to the star’s home, visiting a movie set and even accepting generous gifts. Unfortunately for him, this momentary run in with the glamorous life leads the couple to getting in over their heads even worse than they are already, as the star and his handler (Joe Mantegna) may not be everything they seem.
Will all of this lead Terry to get in the prize-fighting ring?
With David Mamet writing and directing, you know that you’re in for a movie with a number of seedy characters and numerous twists and turns. Indeed, “Redbelt” plays a con movie/martial arts movie mashup. The shady characters putting pressure on Terry to fight seem like distant relatives of those in “Heist” or “House of Games”. There are occasional flashes of the incomparable Mamet dialogue, and the David Mamet players are in attendance, including Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Ricky Jay. Unfortunately, my biggest complaint about the film is that the shadowy machinations seem over done and a little unnecessary. “Redbelt” could have somehow been worked into a simpler film about a man with a tightly held code, feeling the pressures of the world to get in the ring. Because Ejiofor is excellent here in the lead, and was perfectly capable of carrying a movie that leaned more “character study”.
The martial arts here were definitely credible, and by the finale, the stakes are high enough as to make the movie’s climax exciting, both in terms of the fighting and the choices the main character makes.
It’s an emotionally involving film that features a great central performance by Ejiofor, numerous high-profile stars in supporting roles, and some great, functional martial arts. Mamet can’t resist the temptation to over-complicate things, but he still puts forth a very engrossing film.