Chiwetel Ejiofor (left) and Jose Pablo Cantillo add smarts to martial arts in Redbelt.
Redbelt (Sony, 2008) D: David Mamet, w/ Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emily Mortimer. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
Never mind the action movie tag. Redbelt features the same smart dialogue, sharp plotting and character-driven drama you'll find in previous Mamet outings like The Spanish Prisoner and Heist, only this time we're in the world of martial arts, so the climax arrives in purely physical terms.
Mamet calls it a "fight movie" as distinct from a "martial arts movie," and cites boxing titles like Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and the Robert Wise classic The Set-Up, as antecedents. The fight film, he says, is always about the lonely man of honour who must become involved with the corrupt world. It's only one of a string of offhand, illuminating remarks on writing, directing, casting and how things are done in Hollywood.
Redbelt's lonely man is Mike Terry, a poor but dedicated jiu-jitsu teacher forced to enter the gimmicky world of mixed martial arts in the wake of a bizarre accident involving a cop and a lawyer.
Chiwetel Ejiofor invests Terry with a quiet dignity and warmth, becoming a completely credible fighter through only a slight increase in focus and intensity. Tim Allen brings an interesting undertone of self-loathing to his straight dramatic turn as the movie star whose interest helps move Terry out of the safety of his dojo.
Going for realism, Mamet enlists noted martial arts players to handle the fighting roles and choreography. Their physical presence, even when not fighting, adds considerable weight to the proceedings and provides much material for the extras. Don't miss the interview with Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White for a thorough look at the history of the sport and the mindset of a promoter that Mamet scatters through his excellent commentary.
EXTRAS Director and actor Randy Couture commentary, Mamet Q&A, mixed martial arts doc, fighter profiles, magic doc, Ultimate Fighting Championship president interview. Widescreen. English, French audio. French subtitles. English commentary and special feature subtitles.