"You can hardly go wrong with someone who has given us the insouciant variety of Glengarry Glen Ross or Wag the Dog. Redbelt is a classic of the same cadre, hands-down the best martial arts movie you have seen in a decade, if not the very best of all time.
Without any flying dragons or crouching whatchamaycallits, mind you. Without even the guttaral shrieks of your standard issue kung-fu flick. So don't be going seeing it expecting your typical jumping jacks and shenanigans from Hong Kong.
It starts in what looks like your average ramshackle dojo teaching Brazilian Judo tricks. The authenticity of the maneuvers is instructive, and gripping. But this soon builds into a thrilling rumination of our common human tussle between staying true to our integrity and giving in to the practical conveniences of the moment.
The screenplay is vintage Mamet. We get a steady dose of one-liners ("I don't teach people to fight. I teach them to prevail.") The narrative offers some unexpected twists but exhibits a gentle unaffected beauty, an austerity that seems almost effortless. You'll watch it in one swoop.
For some inadequately explored reason Amazon and various other sources insist on billing this as a Tim Allen starrer, which is puzzling. He fritters a guest appearance at best (what happened--not enough dates?) and is basically quickly forgotten.
See it instead for the irrepressible tenacity of Ejiofor. He's one of those actors you have seen in strident supporting gigs before, but handed his first meaningful protagonist role here, he brings quite a spine to the film. His character calmly copes with the insidious commercialism and scheming all around him, but his resolve is not without its frailties. Still, we root for him from basically the first ten minutes onwards.
The ending may feel a trifle pat, or at least sudden, but this is undeniably a memorable work of art. Even for people without a flair for martial arts. A highly recommended keeper."
Mesmerizing Tour de Force
the pegasus | 05/13/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"REDBELT is a mesmerizing tour de force. There are so many story elements intricately tied together. Causal action relationships bump up against arbitrary chance events. The honor code of the Samurai warrior meets up and does battle with the criminal scams of a greedy Hollywood film and sports culture. Mamet frames his film with the world of martial arts and yet it is at the same time the classic Greek warrior's noble struggle, "arête", which thus becomes a fascinating fusion of Eastern and Western cultural traditions. The jiu-jitsu instructor's (Mike Terry) caveats to his students in the opening scene in how to marshal their forces and extricate themselves from entrapment by their opponent ("There is always a way out, you just have to find it") all return to test him as the movie unfolds and he becomes ensnared in the dishonorable world which surrounds him. The acting throughout is marvelous with a cast that reflects Mamet's refined sense of individual characters. Chiwetel Ejiofor is superb. While he dominates the film, the other members of the cast are more than impressive, especially Ricky Jay who plays a scumbag fight promoter. If I were to have any criticism, it would be that Mamet sometimes moves too quickly in the exposition of his "magnificent puzzle" and at times during the film, I felt a bit frustrated and confused. But that is a small price to pay for such a challenging artistic experience. The camera work is fascinating. Mamet uses lots of unusual close-up shots, not just of faces but also segments of the landscape in which significant action is occurring. It's a very painterly approach to film. This is a film that stimulates one to see it several more times, hopefully on the big screen. I've not elaborated on any specific scenes, as I don't wish to spoil the challenging denouement of the film. REDBELT is brilliant filmmaking."
The best martial arts film to come out in quite a long time!
Maxwell | 05/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Redbelt is a the best martial arts movie I've seen in quite a long time. There's not a great deal of action in it, but it explores the philosophy and principles behind the main character's (Mike Terry) Jiu Jitsu training/teaching. He's a man who lives by a warrior code, and tries to uphold such principles as honor, loyalty, and integrity inside and outside his gym. In the end, the movie is not about Terry's physical fighting, but about his personal struggle to survive and succeed in a modern world that does not seem to share or reward his values.
Be warned that any casual fan of action flicks who goes into this film expecting a lot of over the top butt kicking and spectacular Jackie Chan-esque fight sequences will be sorely disappointed. There are no acrobatic stunts or flying tornado kicks here. The few fight sequences there are in the film mostly involve Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And even in a choreographed fight scene, real Jiu Jitsu technique is not the prettiest thing to look at from the perspective of a casual observer. However, those who have some knowledge and appreciation of martial arts will greatly appreciate the realism and expertise demonstrated in Redbelt's fight scenes. Another treat for martial artists and MMA fans is that many small roles in the film are played by world reknowned fighters and masters such as Randy Couture, Enson Inoue, the Machados, Ray Mancini, and Dan Inosanto.
Redbelt is not perfect by any means. Similar to other Mamet works such as Spartan, the film does suffer from some convoluted storytelling and ridiculous plot twists that defy any sensible logic. The ending seems like a lazy cop out, and offers no resolution for all the issues that Mamet confusingly brought up earlier in the film. But even if the storytelling loses some steam by the end, there is still much to be appreciated in Redbelt. Its a throwback to such great films such as Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, in that it explores the principles and philosophy of the warrior code and martial arts, rather than just using them as an excuse to beat people up."
More a Riveting Character Study than an Action film
Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 09/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mixed Martial Arts have been in the spotlight ever since the emergence of UFC and some Hollywood films such as the Karate Kid clone "Never Back Down" (which I have also reviewed) have attempted to capitalize on its popularity. Writer/director David Mamet's "REDBELT" may well be the best U.S. filmmakers have come up with in regards to the world of Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts. The film is about honor and integrity, it cleverly blends the Japanese "code of the Samurai" into the dark side of the world of corruption in competitive sports. The film offers something to think about and for martial artists, it can get under your skin.
Mike Terry (Cheitel Ejiofor) is a well-respected but struggling teacher of Jiu-Jitsu. Terry has his own code of honor and would rather be poor than to compromise his integrity, much to the dismay of his wife Sondra (Alice Braga). His life intertwines with a student/policeman, a fragile young attorney (Emily Mortimer) and a hotshot actor named Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Frank becomes a witness to Terry's fighting skills when he assists him resolve a barroom brawl, and offers him and his wife a business arrangement. However, things go from bad to worst, his ideas are stolen and certain things may well force Terry to compete for money--something he does not believe in.
Rather than focusing on dynamic, jaw-dropping action sequences, "Redbelt" is more a riveting character study of one man. The film may be simple in terms of plot and some key elements may be a little unoriginal, but the storytelling is structured well and the script does provide the necessary emotions to add to its effectiveness. The old adage; "Good Guys finish last..." may come to mind, but what that phrase doesn't complete is that "..but good guys also guarantees their soul.." and I believe in that. The film is nicely paced and the proceedings does exactly what it is trying to say. While Terry is admired by students and other folks, his strong integrity may just hamper his success when it comes to the real world of money and material needs. Mike Terry is a man torn between his principles and his obligations. I truly love his principle of "competition is not a fight, I teach my students to prevail but not necessarily to fight". I also admired Mamet's definition of what exactly a "black belt" represents philosophically and that a belt is just something to hold up your pants.
The film is a real densely executed character study and the spirit of martial arts, and of course, textbook manipulations would occur that would lead to its gripping encounter. The film does offer some of the most realistic fight sequences I've seen on camera. The moves are on display as Terry fights for his goal, although Asian martial arts films will provide a more entertaining experience. I've read that actor Cheitel Ejiofor trained in London, under Carlos Gracie in his academy, and the man definitely owned his role. This was a very good advantage as it did help the actor be more convincing in his role, since he did train in one of the best schools of Jiu-Jitsu. He knows the moves and it showed that he does, I bet the stunt coordinators appreciated this fact as it would be easier to choreograph the art's very complex moves.
REDBELT also delves into the spirit of Jiu-Jitsu as well as the way of the samurai, and it also explores the corruption of money-driven competition; "everything that involves money is fixed" (we all know this but we just tend to deny it). The film shows money-driven competition's ugly face, and it is a very bleak view that is similar to the world of boxing. Quite a real gutsy move in the part of David Mamet. Surprisingly, Tim Allen does a great job as Chet Frank, at first impression, I thought he was miscast but he fit his role. Emily Mortimer may seemed a little "doopie" in the beginning but she also contributes to the film's emotional impact. The film does have a solid cast that reflects its solid direction.
Mamet definitely knew what he wanted to do with the film, the man wants to communicate the integrity and honor of a good man in a very cynical and materialistic world and he does so; the film is structured well and the writing is sharp. The circumstances that led to Mike being pushed to a corner was convincing enough and the links between the characters were credible. The spirit of Jiu-Jitsu is treated as if it is "hallowed ground" when it is within the confines of Terry's school; men and women can find themselves inside while leaving the real world behind.
The film's climax may leave some audiences asking for more and some may even say it seems a bit too cheesy, but if you were paying attention to its entirety, it does make a fitting ending. The climactic fight that occurs outside the ring does effectively represent just what Mike Terry stands for. "RedBelt" may not have that many sequences of fisticuffs and those who are looking for an abundance of choreographed martial arts are better off looking elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a character-driven, thinking man's martial arts drama, then this film will not disappoint.
REDBELT effectively portrays the beliefs and the philosophy of martial arts. As someone often told me; "the measure of a man is not to be judged with the size of his wallet, but what he holds in his heart; if he works hard enough and never compromises his beliefs and integrity, then he is beautiful..."
Recommended! [4- Stars]
Mamet At His Best
Adventure Fan | 08/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Spoiler Free Review...
I own every Mamet play and dvd and I found Redbelt thrilling. Mostly because he was able to craft a killer story structure. A protagonist with a noble pursuit, in the shadowy underworld of the MMA.
But like most Mamet films, this is not an action movie, it's suspense-drama.
The dialogue is brutal, and the subtext is deep. This movie hits the viewer on a physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level. It's a demanding film. If you watch and you only half pay attention, when the plot twists happen, you'll be struggling to understand.
I watched this with a group of seven, half Mamet fans, half virgins. We all watched the same movie, together, and three people just didn't get it... One fan, two virgins. The other four loved it.
The video and audio quality make this one of the best looking Blu-rays. It's razor sharp, deep black, rich color. Everything looks better and sounds better in HD, and, at least for me, Mamet in HD is wicked sweet.