Mamet + MMA = Good Times

by Alan Rapp on May 9, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Redbelt
  • IMDB: link

redbelt-poster

Okay, I love David Mamet, but at first glance the mixture of Mamet and mixed martial arts sounds like a formula for disaster.  With memories of many horrific MMA themed films running through my head (including Hollywood’s latest blunder) I sat down to see what one of the best writers working today had to say on the subject.  I walked out a very happy man.

Our story centers around Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a guru and owner of a martial arts dojo struggling to get by.

A series of events disrupt Mike’s world and force him to make hard choices about his core beliefs about martial arts, training, and his disdain for competing in staged MMA tournaments.

This is a David Mamet script and, as you would expect, things don’t go from A to B here, and if they do it’s never in a straight line.  There are surprises, twists, and an elaborate con which leaves our hero out of options and at odds with the world and himself.

Ejiofor is terrific in a role which could easily have been dismissed as bland or cliché in the hands of a lesser actor.  Tim Allen adds a nice supporting performance as an action movie star who crosses his path and offers him hope of an easier life.  And many Mamet regulars pop up in small but important roles including Rebecca Pidgeon, Joe Mantegna, and Ricky Jay.

I must also stop to commend the two leading ladies of the film.  Alice Braga is beautiful and bold as Mike’s more realistic wife who struggles against the totality of her husband’s honor, beliefs, and convictions.  Emily Mortimer also has a small role as a woman struggling with her own fears in an important subplot which will be slowly woven into the main tale.

I’ve yet to mention the fight sequences, which are terrific by the way, because they are actually secondary to the story.  Unlike many action films of this genre (such as the recent Never Back Down, read that review) here the story and the characters come first and are never compromised for the sake of an action scene.

The film does have a few small flaws.  The con is a bit overly-complex and on such a large scale to the point of stretching believability.  It also takes a little too long to blend the various stories into the main plot of the film.  Even with these issues, however, it is a smart and engaging film which will keep you on your toes.

This is the film MMA enthusiasts have been waiting for, one which celebrates the tenents of the sport and its customs without selling out and provides a worthwhile story to go along with the fight scenes.  Does the story get a bit too crazy?  Perhaps, but as Mike’s life is put in a vise, his support system taken away, and as he is left alone with his own conscience and beliefs, we are given this gift of a tale of a lone honest man against a corrupt world that even Frank Capra would be proud of.

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