I was not aware of how many David Mamet films I have seen. I also was not aware that I have not been disappointed by any of them. Redbelt kept the streak alive. Where this was not as layered as The Spanish Prisoner or as twisting as Heist, Redbelt delivers plenty on both levels. It is also imperative to know that this film is not a martial arts film, but a film about martial arts.
Redbelt opens with Laura Black, played by Emily Mortimer, who is a lawyer, side-swiping a car. It turns out, it is the car owned by Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Mike Terry, played by under appreciated Ejiofor Chiwetel. His whole persona and look on life is one of honor and acceptance. He is a character unlike any I have seen in film in a long time. When Laura comes into the dojo to admit and apologize for the accident, she misfires police officer and student of the gym Joe Collins’s gun shooting out the large window front. Max Martini plays Joe, and is from the tv show The Unit, which is produced by David Mamet. This event marks the start of everything else that goes on in the film.
That night, Terry goes to a bar owned by his brother-in-law Billy, played by 300’s Rodrigo Santoro. While in the bar, we meet fictional action star Chet Frank, portrayed by Tim Allen. This role is unlike any other that Tim Allen has played. It has no comedy to it whatsoever. Chet gets into a bar fight and Terry saves him. This scene sets up the rest of the film.
From here, we are introduced to many characters. All are important, but not important enough to report on here. Terry’s other brother-in-law is a mixed-martial-arts fighter. He uses Brazilian jiu-jitsu as his style. They were trained together when they were younger. Actual MMA fighter, Randy Couture, makes an appearance as a commentator for the fight. Ricky Jay has his usual Mamet cameo as the fights’ promoter, Marty Brown. After a shady deal with Marty Brown and Chet Frank, Terry’s teaching strategies are stolen and used in the fights’ promotion. This is where Terry ends up mixed up with the fights.
At this point, I am going to tell you a few other important facts that need to be known here and then end this review:
- Joe is a loyal and honorable student testing for his black belt.
- One of the codes that Terry’s dojo lives up to is never to bring dishonor to the dojo.
- Another code is, there is always an escape.
- Terry does not compete because he feels it weakens the fighters.
- There is only one redbelt, and it goes to the “best.”
The ending of the film was abrupt. It was climactic for sure, but there was nothing past the apex of the journey. The ending was the top. Being a former martial artist, it inspired me to go back to the dojo myself. I found a local judo club and will be going back in the fall. Redbelt was what I was expecting, yet completely different at the same time. I know that makes no sense, but I knew what to expect from a David Mamet film and yet, was surprised. VERDICT: This is a must see for fans of Mamet’s work, martial artists, and anyone who just wants to watch a true film of martial arts not just the Jackie Chan-Jet Li type. I recommend a DVD rent since this film was on such a limited release. If you have the opportunity to see it in theaters, it is worth the matinee price.