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4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"A crackling-good martial arts mystery."
5 stars

"Redbelt" isn't quite a blender movie, where a filmmaker puts two generally unrelated genres together to see what happens. It is a nifty combination of David Mamet mystery and martial arts action, and it delivers on that DNA's promise: It creates the constant need to know what's going to happen next and makes things very exciting when it does come to a fight.

Mamet starts by introducing us to a few characters whose paths might not cross under other circumstances. There's Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a jiu-jitsu instructor whose dojo is, as his dressmaker wife Sondra (Alice Braga) points out, barely scraping by as it is. That's before a busy night where Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) shows up at the close of business, high-strung and crashing from too many prescription drugs, getting into a thing with Joe Ryan (Max Martini), a cop who is Mike's star student, that gets his window shot out. Sondra sends him to her brother's bar to ask for a loan to get it fixed, and he winds up breaking it up when someone tries to pick a fight with movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen). And then...

Well, more stuff happens, and there are even more characters involved in the story. For the first half of the movie or so, we know that Terry is going to be the story's main character, but we don't quite know what the story is. It could be about Terry getting sucked into the world of Hollywood; it could be something involving the Mixed Martial Arts promoters we meet. He could be sucked into whatever trouble Laura is in. Mamet doesn't just throw a bunch of situations out there and have them come together later - the story moves ahead like a snake's path, always toward its final destination but moving side to side in order to get there. The various story elements come together, but Terry's encounters with them are such that we're never quite sure what the next ten, twenty, or thirty minutes are going to hold.

Part of that is that we're not quite sure which characters are going to be significant. Mamet has assembled a quite frankly ridiculous cast, all giving pretty good performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor is on screen for practically the entire film, and he makes a fine modern samurai. There's something about him that's almost infuriatingly calm; he's a man who has trained to handle every situation, and sometimes seems not to realize that the tenets he lives and trains by are not so easily attained for others. Ejiofor plays Terry as not always being a great teacher; he has patience but not always insight.

Terry probably doesn't think of himself in samurai terms, but Max Martini's Joe almost certainly does, there's an air of hero worship to him whenever he's in the same scene as Ejiofor, though not in a way that diminishes the character. Alice Braga shows us the strain of being married to someone so calm and impractical. Tim Allen is surprisingly good as Chet; there's a real sense that this guy is disillusioned and one false step from bringing his whole world crashing down around him. Emily Mortimer is pretty darn wonderful as as Laura; she's as nervous as Ejiofor is calm. The supporting performances are all good enough that it's not easy to guess who's going to be important, but we could easily see the parallel, interesting movies about the people Terry encounters. Mamet regulars Ricky Jay, Rebecca Pidgeon, David Paymer and Joe Mantegna are also hanging around, keeping things interesting.

Despite being set in the world of martial arts, there's only a few fight scenes, but they are nicely staged. This isn't like what you'd see in a Jackie Chan or even Donnie Yen movie; neither Mamet nor Terry has much use for fighting being pretty; what we see is all about getting the other guy down or teaching someone how to accomplish the same. Things may not be balletic, but Terry's general effectiveness is impressive, making the fights emotional experiences.

The emotion does run a bit high in the last few minutes, as much as it does seem to be earned for the characters we've come to like. Maybe the emotional payoff doesn't come as easily to him as the moment when we see how everything ties together. Even if that part of the end isn't subtle, though, the lead-up and payoff for both the intellectual and emotional sides are done well enough for the movie to be a delight.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17119&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/22/08 02:54:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/08/08 damalc well acted but a rambling mess for a mamet film 3 stars
9/30/08 Lee Captivating, meaningful, Victorious 5 stars
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  02-May-2008 (R)
  DVD: 26-Aug-2008


  DVD: 26-Aug-2008

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