Redbelt (2008)

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As of late, Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, have been intricate in cinema, thanks to the likes of Donnie Yen’s Hong Kong films SPL and Flash Point as well as Hollywood films like Never Back Down and the straight-to-DVD flicks starring Hector Echavarria. Directed by David Mamet, this is one of the best Hollywood MMA flick efforts out there, thanks to its intricate storyline and stellar cast.

Mike Terry is a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor who trains local policeman Joe Collins and others. However, he constantly finds himself in debt. When Laura Black, a lawyer with mental issues, arrives at the school after accidentally hitting Mike’s car, she accidentally discharges Joe’s pistol, hitting the window of the school.

That night, at a local bar, Mike comes to the aid of Chet Frank, a washed-up action star who gets heat from a local patron. Chet thanks Mike by giving him a wristwatch and an invite to dinner. Mike is then invited to the set of Chet’s latest action film. Mike soon finds himself an opportunity to work as a potential stunt coordinator. However, when his wife Sondra is set up by Chet’s wife and loses $30,000, Mike finds himself in major trouble. It becomes the least of his worries.

When Mike explained his teaching methods to Chet’s agent Jerry Weiss before the set-up, Mike finds himself stunned when a MMA tournament company run by Dylan Flynn and Marty Brown decide to use Mike’s very method in determining the fights. When Mike unsuccessful attempts a lawsuit, he finds himself drawn to compete in the tournament as the only way to pay off his debts.

David Mamet truly brings out one of his best, if not his best film to date. Apparently, he was influenced by the fact that actor Ed O’Neill (who makes a cameo in the film) was actually a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu not to mention he is a jiu-jitsu practitioner himself. Creating an environment that juxtaposes the business side and spiritual side of the martial art, Mamet is able to mesh fight scenes with dramatic scenes very well.

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives out a great performance as Mike Terry. He plays Terry as not much a tortured soul but one who believes more in the integrity and honorable code of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. To him, money is just money. However, his wife thinks differently and only seems to care about business and paying debts off. She even complains when she has to take money from her fabric business to pay for Mike’s dojo. From the get-go, you can tell that domestic bliss between these two is definitely on the negative side.

Tim Allen, usually known for his more comedic performances, impresses in a dramatic light as washed up action hero Chet, who may seem at first Mike’s confidant. However, this soon proves to be nothing more than a con artist, or so it seems. Chet is perhaps the most underdeveloped character because one can’t tell whether it was his agent who made Chet that way or if it was out of Chet’s own nature to set Mike up for a fall. This is the only flaw in the entire film.

It is clear that with the exception of Laura, played well by Emily Mortimer, as well as Snowflake, played by Crank villain actor Jose Pablo Cantillo, all of the supporting characters seem like the scumbag type. Perhaps Mamet did this on purpose to show that Mike is truly the one honorable character and despite always facing obstacles, he must find a way to persevere. The only other character one cannot be too sure about is that of tournament promoter Dylan Flynn, played by Ultimate Fighting Championship legend Randy Couture. He seems like the young executive type who just hears an idea and goes along with it rather than ask questions.

The fight sequences are well done here. Fight choreographers John Machado (who has a role here as Mike’s fighting brother-in-law and potential arch nemesis) and Rico Chiapparelli did a good job under the supervision of Renato Magno, who created the fight sequences. There are some nice angled shots and despite some extreme close-ups, overall, the fights show the true techniques of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to a tee. Ejiofor underwent training for three months and looks quite impressive here. A knife fight on set of Chet’s movie was choreographed by Dan Inosanto, who also makes a cameo as Mike’s teacher, simply named “The Professor”.

If you want to see a really good MMA film, then Redbelt is definitely a must on your list. David Mamet really created an environment that highlights the difference between the financial aspects and the true honor of martial arts.

WFG RATING: A

A Sony Pictures Classics production. Director: David Mamet. Producer: Chrisann Verges. Writer: David Mamet. Cinematography: Robert Elswit. Editing: Barbara Tulliver.

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emily Mortimer, Alice Braga, Tim Allen, Randy Couture, Ricky Jay, Joe Mategna, John Machado, Rodrigo Santoro, Jennifer Grey, Ed O’Neill, Dan Inosanto.

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