Pay no attention to the title of this blog. Redbelt is not a fight movie. There is fighting in the movie, but this is a David Mamet film. There must be more under the surface.
"There is always a way out. You just have to find it." From the very first scene, we hear Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a very proud and dedicated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor, utter these words.
That's what this movie is all about.
Mike's business is failing, causing tension between him and his wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), a struggling clothing designer. A surprising incident involving a lawyer and Mike's prize pupil acts as the starting pistol for the entire story. But it's not until Mike comes to the aid of actor Chet Frank (Tim Allen) during a bar brawl that his life truly begins to change.
Through a crazy bunch of events, Mike finds himself in a dire financial bind. He must enter a mixed martial arts competition in the hopes of paying off his debts. The thing is Mike doesn't believe in competitive fighting. Jiu Jitsu is pure to him, and fighting for money or glory just isn't pure.
At first, Redbelt seems lowkey and simple. A story that you'll enjoy but won't fill you up. But when the credits begin to roll--maybe even 15 or so minutes before that--you realize that there is way more to chew on in this seemingly subdued story. There are stories within stories and metaphors upon metaphors that you wonder about until they all come together seamlessly. There is no happy ending to this tale. There is no devastating end to it either. It's an end that is satisfying enough to close the story without closing the book.
Ejiofor, as always, is brilliant. He seems to take Mamet's stilting dialog and make it into something worth hearing. The passion he brought to the character made me believe that there is always a way out. From the get go, he just lays his entire heart out there for the taking.
Another incredible performance comes from Tim Allen. I've never seen him in a serious role, but he pulls it off exceptionally well. As the haggard, nearly washed-up actor, he plays the part of Chet with a believable cynicism and a touch of naiveté.
Mamet has a tendency towards twists and turns as well as rapid-fire dialog, but to me, Redbelt feels very Mamet but not so. If you're a fan, you'll enjoy it. If you're not a fan, try it on for size anyway. If for nothing else, see the amazing work the Ejiofor puts on that screen.