A few months ago, a rock 'em, sock 'em film called "Never Back Down" was released and broke the mold of fighter movies by becoming the first in a probable long line of box office productions featuring the fighting style of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Now comes "Redbelt",
a film that prides itself more on the characters internal conflicts more so than the external ones.
How the heck to do you make a fighting movie in which the fighting itself is secondary? By using a complicated plot, of course. We have Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a MMA instructor who teaches his students old Zen philosophies as much as combat techniques. His wife, played by the incredibly gorgeous Alice Braga, manages the academy and stresses over the fact that they're running a sinking business. When a panicked woman named Laura Black (the ever reliable Emily Mortimer) accidentally crashes into Terry's car on a rainy night, she enters his academy to pay restitution for the damage. One of Terry's top students approaches Laura to help her remove her coat, which is soaked from the rain, but she freaks out and tries to shoot him, narrowly missing but shattering the academy front window. This sets off a series of events in which Terry and his wife come into contact with a big Hollywood star (Tim Allen), producer (Joe Mantegna), and a slew of other people who love to kiss you when you're up and kick you when you're down. And as complicated as the game of life chess gets, one constant is Terry, who despite the realization that he's been had on more levels than one, remains uncomplicated and true to his principles. Which is great for moviegoers who love plot and terrible for those who prefer action.
In fact, I almost forgot that I was watching a fight movie altogether, until the film's moment of truth, when Terry is forced to enter an MMA tournament to pay off his debts. The script is tight and the dialogue is smart-too smart at times-to the point where occasionally I felt like I was listening to an audiobook of a bestselling thriller, not that this is an entirely bad thing. But the film, which was written and directed by David Mamet (the same guy who wrote "The Untouchables" and "Ronin") delivers an airtight story in which no lines or scenes are completely wasted. It also helps tremendously that Ejiofor is one of the greatest natural actors alive today.
My Grade: B
Rated R, Running time: 99 minutes
Starring: Chiwitel Ejiofor, Alice Braga, Emily Mortimer, Tim Allen
Written and Directed by David Mamet
A Sony Pictures Classics Film
Story by Simbarashe
Starpulse contributing writer