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REDBELT (2008) ***1/2 DVD review by COOP

Posted on September 21st, 2008
Posted on September 21st, 2008


If anyone is to enjoy this film, you must have these three prerequisites…

1. An interest in martial arts, both practice and philosophy
2. A love for David Mamet’s work and style
3. An appreciation for art-house movies

If you don’t qualify for even one of these, you won’t get “Redbelt.” Lucky for me, I do.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, a martial arts instructor who relies on his strict principles to make his decisions in life. Unfortunately those decisions usually lead him down a road of financial troubles and personal tragedy. Mike could be world champion MMA fighter. He’s a badass. Promoters BEG him to fight in the ring, but Mike is a modern day Mr. Miyagi. He won’t fight for personal gain. The only satisfaction he gets is through helping his students: The unstable cop (and black-belt candidate) who desperately wants to provide for his family. The lawyer who has felt like a victim ever since her rape at knifepoint, etc…

Soon Terry learns that no good deed goes unpunished when he saves the life of action star Chet Frank (Tim Allen?) during a bar fight. Impressed with Terry’s abilities, Frank offers Terry a job, resulting in a spiraling turn of events that force Terry into the ultimate dishonor of having to fight for money.

Hear me now and believe me later, Ejiofor will one day win an Oscar. It’s inevitable. The guy is that good and it’s only a matter of time. Having said that, I loved his flawed character, Mike Terry. Terry, in an attempt to do the right thing, always ends up with the short end of the stick. Mamet wanted to take the ancient Eastern philosophy of martial arts and put it up against the mercenary tendencies of the modern world. Of course, the film suggests that the greed and manipulation of the modern world seem impossible to overcome, yet Terry fights it the only way he knows how. People fall into disgrace and even die because of the “righteous” decisions that Terry makes, but to him it’s the only choice. He’s a solitary samurai in a world of thieves and whether he wins or loses, he does it alone. The interesting thing is how people will view the ending differently. Did he lose? Did he win, or was it merely a “pyrrhic victory?”

Despite the fascinating character study of Terry, the rest of the film isn’t as satisfying as it should have been. There was a conspiracy so convoluted to force Terry to fight that it seemed wildly unbelievable. Plus, what the hell was Tim Allen doing in this film and what purpose did his character serve? He looked drunk in the film even when he was supposed to be sober. A lot of Mamet’s staple actors show up, no matter how annoying or miscast they are. The fight scenes could’ve also been more satisfying.

Nevertheless, I dug it. See it for Mamet’s crackling dialogue and Ejiofor’s flawless acting talent. Maybe one day he’ll jump into the ring for his chance at Oscar gold.

Behold the excellent trailer below…

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