REDBELT (David Mamet). 99 minutes. Opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see Movies, page 87. Rating: NNNN
The world of professional mixed martial arts might seem like an odd milieu for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and filmmaker David Mamet to muck about in. Then again, given Mamet’s propensity for twists and double-crosses, this isn’t your typical Bloodsport-style action movie.
It more closely resembles a samurai movie. A soulful Chewitel Ejiofor plays the archetypal warrior pacifist whose code of honour is challenged by the prizefighting game (and its unprincipled promoters) that gradually ensnares him. “Competition weakens the fighter,” he says early on, obviously setting in motion the events that will lead to the inevitable climactic showdown.
Except that this is a Mamet movie. Action is never as important as interaction, and conflict without is never as primal as the conflict within.
Even as the story becomes unnecessarily complicated by revelations and reversals involving a sleazy actor (Tim Allen), a troubled lawyer (Emily Mortimer) and a hot wristwatch, Ejiofor strides through it all.
Mamet is well known for his dialogue, and there are plenty of good, loaded exchanges that rely on repetition and gamesmanship. But it’s not as crisp and sharp as Glengary Glen Ross, say. The dialogue leaves you wanting just a bit more, and so do the fight scenes. They’re well staged and highly realistic, and it comes as no surprise that Mamet has studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu for several years.
But there are actually too few of them. Even the most ardent proponent of Mamet’s tightly wrought storytelling will wish he’d cut loose with more of the fisticuffs.
Read an interview with REDBELT actor and fight choreographer here.