Sunday, May 11, 2008


Chiwetel Ejiofor (Choo-i(t)-tell Edge-oh-for) stars as Jiu-jitsu master and instructor Mike Terry in this latest offering from from writer and director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, House of Games, Heist). As an instructor, Mike excels at teaching his students to prevail and see the honor in their conflicts, however, as a business owner, he is failing miserably since his students alone are not bringing in enough money to sustain his dojo. Mike could easily make his business profitable were he to partake in the 'real' money of competition if only he didn't see competition fighting as a corruption of the spirit of what he represents. It is his desire for simplistic purity that is slowly strangling his business as well as straining his relationship with his wife who, to keep his studio afloat, uses money from her somewhat successful business to pay his bills. A break in the clouds appears in the form of a bar fight involving action movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen), in which Mike saves the 'action man' from having his clock immaculately cleaned. After Chet remembers what year it is, several offers are made to Mike in appreciation and in recognition of his abilities and manner of teaching, which could open many Hollywood doors for not only Mike, but for his wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), as well. Unfortunately, things are never as good as they seem and after realizing the type of people he's become involved with, Mike's future takes such a dark turn that his only possible salvation may be fighting in the type of commercialized competition that he has morally avoided for all of professional career.

I'm really glad I was able to see this film before the summer movie madness kicked into high gear since I was concerned that it's limited release would mean that it wouldn't be in my area, or, when it was, there would be a conflict with another movie I wanted to see. Thankfully, everything worked out and I was able to enjoy an extremely well written, solidly acted film that focused on a strong story with some nice twists and turns. Unfortunately, since this film doesn't sport a huge, big-name cast, concentrates on realism rather than flash and relies on the cast's emotion and dialog tell the story instead of gratuitous 'action' scenes, I'm pretty sure
Redbelt will end up in the 'respected small movie' category with hopes of finding a following, as well as recouping it's budget, through cable and video distribution. Again, that is unfortunate because many film fans who are unfamiliar with David Mamet but appreciate good storytelling will miss this well made and well told tale. As for the story, it's not unique, but, as I've mentioned in the past, it doesn't have to be as long as the telling is unique. I thought this particular telling was inspired because of a subtle, underlying chaos (and anxiety) that seems to permeate the character's lives and the fact that the film avoided the cliche of becoming a physical display designed to showcase a be-all and end-all final conflict reminiscent of The Karate Kid, sans Mr. Miyagi. Maybe it's just me, but any time there is a main character who is a martial arts master and the movie doesn't succumb to being a 'martial arts movie', I'm impressed.

The other thing that impressed me about this movie was the cast. I was already a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor's from having seen him in Dirty Pretty Things, Children of Men and, especially his turn as the intense but cordial killing agent in Serenity, so I wasn't surprised at how well he was able to simultaneously display the strength of a Jiu-jitsu master and the calm of a dedicated spiritualist. Kinda like a Jedi. However, I was surprised by Tim Allen's gritty performance as movie star Chet Frank. Allen's character was gruff, shady and calculating in a very film noir kind of way - it was an amazing (but not enough screen time) performance and, while trying not to seem overly perspicacious, I'd be willing to bet that Allen's portrayal was probably the closest we've ever come to seeing the real man behind the actor. Just a hunch. Emily Mortimer as attorney-with-issues Laura Black was not only well cast, but was incredibly believable on several emotional levels as was Alice Braga (recently seen in I Am Legend) as Mike's business and success oriented wife, Sondra. Other notable cast members include Joe Mantegna as the duplicitous (shocker) business partner type, Max Martini, veteran of such television shows as 24, CSI and The Unit, as Officer Joe Ryan and 90 mile per hour playing card thrower and magician Ricky Jay (X-Files, The Prestige) as slimy fight promoter Marty Brown. As you can tell, the cast is populated by people who have honed their craft by portraying a myriad of characters, and their backgrounds in solid characterizations help save this film from becoming the average type of drama that you might find on the T.N.T. network. ***Tangent*** Also, for those people who do see it but tend to lack certain observational skills, the character of Lucy Weiss, an associate of Chet Frank's wife, Zena, is portrayed by Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller's Day Off fame. I'm not sure if her name was in the opening credits but, after being 99% sure I had recognized her as Lucy, I made sure to double check the closing credits and saw that I was right. It's really unfortunate that her rhinoplasty made her look sooooo much better, but, in exchange, exacted such a negative impact on her career. *** End of Tangent ***

As I said earlier, this is a very solid and well written film and even though I don't anticipate it receiving tons of accolades, I do believe it's a film worth seeing. I don't know that I'd recommend a theater viewing, and given it's limited release that may prove difficult, anyway, but, if you're the type who appreciates a good drama populated by above average performances delivering sharp dialog, then I would definitely recommend adding Redbelt to your Netflix queue when it becomes available.

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