Reader’s Recommendations: “Redbelt”

redbeltHey everyone, it’s Friday, time for another entry in the Reader Recommendations series!

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion which I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, email me @ fogsmoviereviews@gmail.com or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate!
 
AGThis time up, our movie recommendation comes from FMR stalwart Andrew Gelfman, who recommends David Mamet’s “Redbelt”.
 
Mamet has written some awesome films, and I used to practice martial arts myself. So the combination of the two factors leaves me predisposed to liking this one quite a bit! I’m stoked to check it out!  
 
Click through to see what we had to say!
 

My questions in bold. Gelf’s answers below!

 

1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?

I came late to the party as I recall. After seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor in Firefly (2005) I was very impressed by his acting skills. Later on I had a chance to meet him on the set of Salt in 2009 (a film my brother was working on which they were shooting in DC) We got to chatting a little bit about editing and stuff while we were waiting for a scene to be reset and he mentioned Redbelt as something which had some of the most straightforward but effective editing he’d seen. I was a bit embarrassed that I’d never heard of it, and even more so when he casually name dropped that it was written and directed by David Mamet! Jeez, did I feel like a schlub. Anyways, I rented it straight away and was blown away.

2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?

I would recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of David Mamet’s style of movie making. Tense, tight dialog, real characters, real locations. This film is beautifully shot, and beautifully made. The plot is signature Mamet, with twists, turns and human interactions leading to complications. The performances are all top notch, even from the professional fighters and walk on roles. The fight choreography is very convincing, and the music, which mostly consists of taiko drums is very effective. And the climactic scene at the end is not to be missed.
 
3) Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?
 

I think this film is barely on the pop culture radar at all, and as such it is woefully under appreciated. It’s one of those films with a fairly limited target audience but which I think many would enjoy if they gave it a chance.

4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?

This film is SO up your alley it s ridiculous. It’s a David Mamet martial arts film, for crying out loud! It’s cast is beyond stellar. I was pleased as punch to have been able to introduce it to you. Its one of those films you love to share.
 
5) Have you written about the movie yourself? (Insert plug here! LOL)
 

I am blogless and fancy free. My only plug is to watch the film.

Thanks Gelf! My review is below!

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Written and directed by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), “Red Belt” is the story of a struggling Jiu Jitsu instructor named Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who won’t fight competitively. It’s his philosophy that martial arts knowledge should be used for self-defense only, and not for profit or fame. Though this earns him respect from his students and peers, financial difficulties are straining the relationship between he and his wife (Alice Braga).

When an unstable woman (Emily Mortimer) crashes into his car out front and wanders into his dojo one night, a string of unlikely events is set in motion, beginning having the front window of his studio broken. After going to see his brother-in law to see if he can get a loan to replace the window, he finds himself defending a movie star (Tim Allen) in a bar fight. Before he knows it, he and his wife are getting a taste of the high life, as he’s invited to the star’s home, visiting a movie set and even accepting generous gifts. Unfortunately for him, this momentary run in with the glamorous life leads the couple to getting in over their heads even worse than they are already, as the star and his handler (Joe Mantegna) may not be everything they seem.

Will all of this lead Terry to get in the prize-fighting ring?

With David Mamet writing and directing, you know that you’re in for a movie with a number of seedy characters and numerous twists and turns. Indeed, “Redbelt” plays a con movie/martial arts movie mashup. The shady characters putting pressure on Terry to fight seem like distant relatives of those in “Heist” or “House of Games”. There are occasional flashes of the incomparable Mamet dialogue, and the David Mamet players are in attendance, including Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Ricky Jay. Unfortunately, my biggest complaint about the film is that the shadowy machinations seem over done and a little unnecessary. “Redbelt” could have somehow been worked into a simpler film about a man with a tightly held code, feeling the pressures of the world to get in the ring. Because Ejiofor is excellent here in the lead, and was perfectly capable of carrying a movie that leaned more “character study”.

The martial arts here were definitely credible, and by the finale, the stakes are high enough as to make the movie’s climax exciting, both in terms of the fighting and the choices the main character makes.

It’s an emotionally involving film that features a great central performance by Ejiofor, numerous high-profile stars in supporting roles, and some great, functional martial arts. Mamet can’t resist the temptation to over-complicate things, but he still puts forth a very engrossing film.

B+

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39 thoughts on “Reader’s Recommendations: “Redbelt”

  1. I watched Redbelt a few years ago, by chance, really really enjoyed it, great lead actor, if not a slightly underdeveloped script.

    • I enjoyed it too, and I thought Ejiofor was fantastic, yeah. The problem with the script is there was too much con movie going on. LOL Mamet couldn’t leave what he does best behind!

      Thanks for chiming in Samurai!

    • I liked the end, I just thought there could have been a better way to get to it. There was a LOT of manuevering going on that wasn’t really all that necessary. 8O

      Glad to hear you dug it too though!

  2. Here’s the thing about this movie: it’s good, it’s just over-stuffed. I liked what Mamet was trying to do, but he sprinkled a little too much on top to have it give you that full-effect. Good stuff, though.

    • Yup. Over stuffed is a good call Dan. Like a hamburger with too many toppings. :D He should have shaved a level over here or there and dropped a few characters off and the movie would have been much better off!

  3. Just Queued it up in Netflix. Never knew it existed till now. Even Gelfman had to literally hear it from the “horse’s mouth” before he knew. Here’s hoping it’s as good as say “Spartan”.

    • Yep. It’s right around there. I think I liked Spartan a tad better, but it’s been awhile,

      Hey, I hadnt heard of it either. I think Mamet’s projects have all wound up fairly low key. But then its all the more rewarding to the fans that ferret them out! ;)

  4. Great write up Fogs, and very fair criticism. All I can say in defending it’s ‘over-complication’ is… Mamet. That sort of thing is signature Mamet, and I’ll agree it sometimes strains the seems a bit, I’d much rather have too much than too little.

    Anyways, glad you liked it. Robin Hood next? lol.

    • LOL not “next” by a long shot, but it’s still on the list. :D

      I liked the movie, man, it was definitely a good recommendation without a doubt. And I like Mamet. YOu could tell this was one of his… no question about it.

      I just felt it got a little carried away with the con/crime/shady characters stuff. The martial arts instructor story was enough for me. There were a lot of great parts in that aspect of the movie, for me… a lot of very authentic stuff, too. I just wish he had stuck closer to it, but I imagine that angle isnt in his wheelhouse as much as the fast talking criminal stuff LOL :D

    • THE DUKE!

      You know, I’ve never seen “Red River”, so I’d be happy to take this one on. Do you have the patience to submit it? LOL seriously the waiting list is long now… we’re talking a couple of months, easy. 8O

      • Sure!

        Ummmm… What’s the proper procedure? Do I send you an email with answers to the questions you posted above for this Reader Recommendation?

  5. Hi, Fogs and Gelf:

    Interesting take on one of Mamet’s later works. Superb cast, direction and dialouge that becomes a bit too complicated for its own good and exits on a less than satisfying note.

    Kind of like his ‘Spartan’. Which seemed to work better within the confines of the US. Then took an odd hop when it went out of CONUS and moved to the desert “Where you never want to be!”.

    • My recollection of “Spartan” is hazy at best. My main memory of it is that it was light on action, which disappointed me, considering how it was sold.

      As to “Redbelt” though, yeah, exactly. Sounds like we see eye to eye on this one Jack. :D

  6. I thought this was a pretty good film. Mamet can be overwhelming at times but he gets it quite right with this film and actually made it exciting.

  7. Ah, I remember this movie (but just barely so as well) I think it came along a few years too early to cash in on the MMA movie trend we’ve seen recently with Warrior, Never Back Down (1 and 2) and Here Comes The Boom, which is a shame because (and this may be faint praise admittedly) it is a much better movie than all of those aforementioned flicks I’d say.

    • Uhmmmm…. Well, it’s way better than “Here Comes the Boom”, but then again, what movie isn’t? Lol.

      I actually would say “Warrior” is better though. It’s got some awesome performances as well, and it’s more… focused. ;)

      • I liked Warrior a lot more than I expected to, but I still think I’ll take Redbelt over it, for the general noir-ish atmosphere and the classic Mamet dialogue, and yeah, I think I’d almost prefer an actual cagefight against Anderson Silva than having to watch that movie (at least the former would be over a lot quicker)

  8. Nice review and agree with your rating.
    am not too familiar with Mamet’s style but i did like Spartan. Heist, i can barely remember and probably need to revisit.
    But this movie is very interesting and not at all what it seems. i remember renting it thinking that it was a straightforward martial arts movie about a Red Belt fighter(which ranks higher than a Black Belt right?) . but couldn’t be more wrong- this film was complicated.
    However you are right, The climax was quite exciting and the film is emotionally involving. A good recommendation.

    • Yeah, apparently the Red Belt belongs to the founder of the system. I cant say for sure outside of what I was shown in the movie, I didnt study Jiu Jitsu. LOL But in the movie, there’s one Redbelt, and that’s the founder.

      The film WAS complicated, there’s no doubt about it. I think I might have preferred it a little more if they had simplified it a bit and focsued a little more narrowly on Ejiofor’s character. ;)

  9. Good movie, thoroughly enjoyable, a more cerebral “Rocky”, great performances all round, a rather subdued, under the radar movie, but very glad I saw it, and will have to watch it again now!

    • Definitely an under the radar movie. I hadnt even heard of it until Gelf brought it up!

      I was glad I watched it too though, certainly an entertaining movie, and another David Mamet film under my belt! ;)

  10. I’ve only seen it once, but I think that I enjoyed Redbelt even more than you did. The main reason is Ejiofor’s performance, which grounds the movie and makes its twists believable. I also thought the supporting cast did a great job, even Tim Allen. I’m glad you were able to check it out, as I agree that it’s an underseen gem.

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