Redbelt (2008) Poster


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'There's Always An Escape'
Chrysanthepop16 February 2009
Just when one would expect 'Redbelt' to following a predictable path we are thrown off with a twist. Mamet tells a very layered story and most of the twists make sense. There are a few plot holes and perhaps the film could have used some energy boost. The pacing is arguably a tad slow in the beginning but as the events progress the viewer gets more and more drawn in. Mamet also brilliantly involves jiu-jitsu in the main story (unlike other martial arts film where the art is used merely as a device). The film is about honour (as the principles of Jiu Jitsu goes) and sacrifice but 'Redbelt' refuses to tread the clichéd path where the protagonist forcefully preaches the message to the viewer. The fights are well choreographed. The cinematography could have been better during the fight sequences. Mamet's cast is terrific. Chiwetel Ejiofor is exceptional as the noble and dignified Mike Terry. Terry ain't the clichéd hero. He is deeply passionate about jiu-jitsu but who won't resort to anger or bloodshed to achieve his means. He is willing to help anyone and he will do it through correct measures rather than the quick but 'wrong' way. Max Martini and Alice Braga are good. Emily Mortimer is fabulous. Tim Allen stands out in a small role. 'Redbelt' tells the story of a real(istic) hero who is not willing to give up his integrity or sacrifice his honour at any cost, who truly respects his passion and understands it.
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Mamet creates a real hero
Chris Knipp19 May 2008
If you know your Mamet you can watch 'Redbelt' for the significant ways in which it's un-Mamet-like and it will be more enjoyable. If you don't know your Mamet, you're likely to find it just as baffling and off-putting as 'Heist,' 'Spartan,' 'The Spanish Prisoner,' etc., because the plot still moves forward, especially at the beginning, by a series of baffling twists. (It pays to keep coming back.)

Mamet's dialog with its pauses and repetitions and non-sequiturs is so famously mannered and self-conscious you can picture it on the page of script even as the actors speak it. Such artificiality works better in principle on stage. The greater issue when Mamet writes and directs his own movie is the story line. His plot twists are so purely clever, so completely arbitrary, it's hard to take them seriously. The result is enjoyable in a head-trip kind of way, but ultimately cold and uninvolving. As David Edelstein says in his nonetheless favorable review of 'Redbelt,' its plot is "so bizarrely convoluted it barely holds together on a narrative level." Maybe Edelstein's right that this is typical of fight movies; it's even more typical of Mamet. His double-crosses, often involving Hollywood people and crooked promoters, are more rapid-fire and intricate than the usual genre equivalents.

But coming after the cold blur of Mamet's 2004 'Spartan,' 'Redbelt' seems unusually fresh and strong. Some have just attributed this to Mamet's doing a "noir," a "prize fight story," even a "Rocky," with "mixed martial arts" (jujitsu really) the updated replacement of boxing--and this time not even getting in the way of the (for him) new genre. But I think the important difference is Mamet's departure not from previous genres or the conventions of this one, but from his usual cynicism, which makes the ending far less routine and mechanical than 'Spartan's,' less cold and clever than any of his previous endings were.

Genre elements are still definitely there. You can see 'Redbelt,' for a while anyway, as a grownup 'Karate Kid', with Chiwetel Ejiofor the Mr. Miyagi and a cop named Joey his Daniel-san.

There are two interpretations of this comparison. Either the dip into old fashioned B-picture structures makes 'Redbelt' a winner, more forceful and accessible than Mamet's usual hide-and-seek bluffs. Or the Mamet mannerisms are absurd in an otherwise conventional action setting and it's a flop. (Those who complain the fights aren't specific enough are surely missing how well the passive, defensive methods of jujitsu are defined and illustrated in the film early on so they can be appreciated later.)

The skeleton of the fight story trajectory is unquestionably there, but with a difference. The movie (apparently) ends with a big staged public competition surrounded by the paraphernalia of audience and promotion and suspense about outcome. Like an old-style boxing flick the movie refers to gambling, fixed fights, payoffs, prizes. But first of all this isn't about boxing--"Boxing's dead," one of the promoters says--and Mamet even takes a lot of personal pleasure in working with this different sport, using his own knowledge from five years of training in it.

But more than that, the difference in the sport and the hero's dedication to it significantly change the framework and the ending. Unlike just any conventional athlete, Mike Terry (Ejiofor) practices and teaches a Brazilian form of jujitsu--his wife Sondra (Alice Braga) is Brazilian--and therefore follows the Bushido code. This is not only not boxing. It's a philosophy, and as we know, its focus is not winning a staged contest but triumphing over any enemy in a conflict. 'Redbelt' is a martial arts movie with a hero who succeeds to the end in staying outside any system. Mike never intends to and does not participate in a promoted public fight (though Mamet just barely dodges that--with his usual slickness in plot twists).

This is where Mamet completely deviates from his usual world of one cynical double-cross after another. Unlike the underdog, Mike has nothing to prove. His dojo is financially unsuccessful not because he's some kind of hitherto floundering loser but simply because he is--he must be--indifferent to money. He is in peak condition and never loses, but when he triumphs it's only to make a point, not prove himself. This may link him with Mr. Miyagi. But unlike Miyagi, Mike fights, and defeats, a lot of people on-screen. This is so much an action movie and Ejiofor is so convincing that the dialog very rarely sounds mannered this time.

If you understand what Mamet's doing and how that's different this time from both Mamet's routines and the sports genre film, the ending ins't hasty or confused so much as emotionally satisfying and right. If you insist, you can say it's just 'Rocky' for grownups who like Eastern philosophy; but that's something awfully new for this writer/director. As usual for Mamet, 'Redbelt' isn't realistic. But this time he isn't just being clever: the movie leads not to "Ah ha!" but simply a satisfied "Ah!" This time Mamet doesn't give us a manipulated character who does or doesn't survive: he gives us a real hero. This is where the excellent Ejiofor is so essential and so cool. Mike is a character Mamet never conceived before--and a hero more convincing in his iron resiliency than is usual, thanks to the calm intensity and inner peace the actor effortlessly projects.

There are plenty of other reasons in the cast for being happy. Everyone is unusually good and those characters who seem cheap and slick are that way because they're from the world of cheap and slick people. Those who come closer to Mike Terry like his wife and the initially dodgy woman lawyer Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) who becomes his partner in conflict, and his black belt, Joe Ryan (Max Martini) are thoroughly warm and convincing.
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Another searing masterpiece from Mamet!!
sulaco_in28 April 2008
I just saw this movie yesterday at the Tribeca Film Festival, NYC. I have never posted a review at IMDb before, in spite of being a loyal visitor to this website for 10 years now. However, after watching Redbelt, I have been forced to say something.

In short the film is about a martial arts instructor who is too idealistic for the real world around him. Thats why he stays safely behind the confines of his teaching academy. One night though, a series of events changes everything and he is forced to come out into the open and confront the consequences of the ripple effect.

This confrontation, in the hands of David Mamet becomes white hot and you can feel the tension of the film in your pulse. The audience applauded many scenes and in the end I think the standing ovation must have lasted five minutes or more. Many people also felt that this film should have been considered for the Cadillac Award, and were disappointed that Redbelt was ineligible for the top competition honor.

As always taut screenplay and cracking dialogues were the hallmark of the film, like any other Mamet movie or play. During the course of the film I couldn't help but wonder at the raw intensity that Mamet manages to bring to his films. I have not been able to pin point so far, but I do see parallels between the protagonists of his earlier film Spartan (played by Val Kilmer) and Redbelt (played to greatness by the ever brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Overall an amazing film and Mamet fans won't be disappointed.
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There's always an escape…Redbelt
jaredmobarak9 May 2008
David Mamet is back with his new film Redbelt. After four years away from Hollywood, producing the television show "The Unit," Mamet has followed up his solid thriller Spartan with a drama of intelligence that only he can capture. Complete with the trademark, metered language—every word timed and delivered with precision—this tale may be billed as a mixed martial arts actioner, but it is so much more. The sport itself lends heavily to the plot for sure, but rather than with its moves and choreography, it is the underlying sense of honor that becomes the central focus. Beginning as a straight-forward drama of faith and morality, culminating into what appears to be this Jiu-Jitsu instructor's big chance at success and wealth to keep his fledgling gym in business, Mamet's story soon gets the rug pulled out from under it, fast and hard. I will admit to not having expected the sharp turn of events halfway through as everything Mike Terry has built his life upon ends up leading to his demise, eventually finding him on the edge of throwing all he believes in away forever. A film of respect and sacrifice, greed and deceit, Redbelt goes places you will not be ready for, yet it is handled deftly, causing all the machinations to fall into place and show their true worth in the progression of the story. It all happens for a reason; life sometimes deals you pain and leaves you in a choke hold about to lose air, but as Terry tells his students, there is always an escape.

I don't want to ruin anything with this film, because truthfully it caught me off-guard. Maybe the turn was hinted in the trailer, I don't remember, but it is better to go in following the plot threads and watching it all unravel. With that said, I do have a problem with the ending. Not so much the tone and end result, but in the way it all transpires. I believe it is a perfect conclusion if not played out too easily without explaining the motivations behind two Jiu-Jitsu champions and their actions. To do what they do, it would almost mean they knew what was going on with the tournament, that they knew what Terry was about to tell the world before he spoke…I just don't see how that can be true. Maybe Mamet just wanted to stick to a minimalist approach and allow it all to occur in sequence, and it is a powerful progression, it's just filled with that one problem which could have possibly been rectified, but maybe it was and I missed it. I don't want to accuse the filmmaker of a plot-hole if he actually did cover it up, I just can't remember it happening. It's the one blight on an otherwise stellar film.

The script is a huge part of the success and really that is where Mamet either flourishes or fails. At times he can be too cute or too overwrought, but at other instances he can be at the top of the industry. I generally find his smaller works, based off his own plays, as his best work, but this one is definitely on par. The ability to take us on this journey with two halves of good times and the fall from them is a feat that usually fails due to contrivances and blatant tells. Maybe I was tired or just too caught up in the acting and fight sequences, but it really surprised me in a good way; I didn't see it coming at all.

Credit should go to the performers too for keeping their end of the game high quality. You believe all involved just as Mike Terry does throughout and when it hits him, the revelation is astounding. I believe that is due to the brilliant turn from Chiwetel Ejiofor in this lead role. Supposedly he had never had any formal martial arts training beforehand, but when you see him encompass Terry, you won't believe that. He really pulls off the realism and the energy and the stoic calm of being in control at all times, not competing because that forum only weakens you. Eijiofor carries the film on his back as he enters the world of Hollywood business and behind closed-door deals before attempting to claw his way out. Despite the opportunity presented him, he never falters from the passion he has in the sport and the willingness to help anyone in need. A true hero, Mike Terry continues on his path of righteousness, pushing the anger away and clearing his mind to prevail.

The rest of the cast—consisting of many Mamet regulars like wife Rebecca Pidgeon, David Paymer, and Ricky Jay in small roles—take the words and nail each reading. Max Martini stands out as Terry's star pupil and backbone emotionally to the story; Alice Braga is good as the wife finding that standing by her man may not be the way to succeed financially in life; Emily Mortimer is fantastic as the troubled attorney who's accidental introduction to the gym puts everything into motion; and Tim Allen shows that maybe he still has some good serious turns in him if only he can get some time off from children's fare. Along with the acting comes some amazing choreography fight-wise too. The camera usually stays in close-up, but there aren't too many sharp cuts, allowing the full fight to play out as realistically as possible. Sure we get the one man fighting a gang and winning, but he never prevails unscathed, allowing us to believe what we are seeing.
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I'd love to dump on this movie for the pain it put me through
socrates9916 September 2008
I've never rented a DVD that I had to take several attempts to see before. This hero's struggle was so painful to me personally that I had to take several runs at it. I'm a little surprised I made it through. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the main character, Mike Terry, is so perfect for the role it begs the question, Was this guy really just acting? The whole point of this movie, an homage to the purity of a certain sort of warrior spirit, is so unexpectedly plausible that I was taken aback. I thought David Mamet who had been involved in "Spartan", "Heist", "Ronin", and "Wag the Dog" to name a few other movies, was more predictably conventional and commercial.

This movie probably won't make a lot of money but it's a truly beautiful exploration of the potential for nobility in modern life. I kinda doubt whether they plan a sequel as the point has been made and it would take a truly extraordinary script to follow this little tour de force, but if there is one, I wouldn't miss it for the world.
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One of the best martial arts movies with not so much action in it. ;-)
realsense25 July 2008
I believe David Mamet did a great job with this film. He managed to show a true art and soul of a real martial artist. This film is not about training, action and competition. It is more about a life of a man who has to challenge his own ideals and manage the turmoil that he is going through. This film is also refreshing due to its Brazilian touch. :-) Casting is great with only one exception - Rodrigo Santoro: I personally don't think he was the right choice for the role he played. Maybe he wasn't "dangerous" enough, don't know, but just didn't fit in right. Otherwise the script is well written and message delivered.

May not be the greatest movie, but definitely deserves to be watched.
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If you like emotion and objective correlatives, you'll like this movie ...
Charles Delacroix10 May 2008
I saw this movie and was very pleasantly surprised. I really liked this movie. Although at first I didn't know why.

After all, the script, as narrative, is full of holes. Big holes. Without going into details, the initial scene with shot fired has been accurately described as full of holes as swiss cheese. Yet this scene is a key part of the movie, referenced again and again. This is not good.

The title, pictures, and promos were all fundamentally misleading. I went expecting a martial arts film. But it turns out to be a drama. If you are looking for martial arts action, you'll come away very, very disappointed. This too is not good.

The final sequence is utterly incredible. This has been pointed out again and again. This is a basic plot failure. And this too is not good.

And yet ... and yet I came away really, really feeling good about this movie I had just seen. Why?

Well, first, if you view the script not as a narrative, but as a sequence of loosely connected scenes designed to evoke one emotion or thought or the other ... like tableaux vivants, or what TS Eliot called objective correlatives ... well, it works. For example, we have a main character stripped of everything in a series of narratively impossible scenes; and yet the emotions involved in "losing everything" are conveyed powerfully and evocatively. Likewise the ending redemptive sequence is narratively incredible; but emotionally very, very satisfying. This is all to the good.

The characters, acting, and characterizations were all excellent. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry was superb. And the Mike Terry character is simply a delight, likable, appealing, interesting. Tim Allen was successfully cast against type. Ricky Jay's Marty Brown the sports promoter is utterly slimy and yet I couldn't take my eyes off of him. After every scene, I felt like running to the restroom to wash my hands and face and ears. He is sliminess personified. But all the characters were well drawn whether likable or disgusting. All to the good.

The cinematography and scenes were well drawn and well depicted. There were some really gripping, evocative shots I especially like: such as the Tim Allen character in dark profile. All to the good.

All in all, I'd say if you like emotion and objective correlatives, I think you'll like this movie. Don't go looking for martial arts, and don't go looking for a sound narrative; but if you want good, solid punch, you've come to the right place.
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Tecun_Uman10 May 2008
I almost did not watch this film. I have been burned by David Mamet in the past. In fact, I still believe that "Spartan" was the worst film ever made. But boy did he make up for it with this one. The film centers around Mike Terry, an idealist, who runs his own dojo and trains students fighting skills and souls. His wife believes Mike is addicted to poverty, but really, he is addicted to honor. Financial and ethical problems result in Mike having to do what he never has done before, fight in a competition. The action scenes are great. The international talent is wonderful. The attention to detail, first class. You will recognize many people from the world of MMA here, including Frank Trigg and Randy Couture, but the actor that plays Mike Terry is what makes the film shine, excellent job. Take it from someone that is not a Mamet shill, this film rocks!
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MMA Mamet Style
ElijahCSkuggs9 May 2008
For a fan of MMA like myself, I've been really drooling for a good MMA flick. To satisfy my MMA urges I've put myself through cheesy Bas Rutten flicks (The Eliminator and even The Vault), amazing documentaries (The Smashing Machine), and even rare Japanese flicks (Nagurimono). So this has been a long time coming. A well-made flick, with a well-known director and accomplished actors, this has to be good, right? Well, no, not really. But luck be true, REDBELT was a very good film.

The story follows a thoughtful Jiu Jitsu instructor who ends up running into some good luck. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long, and in order to set things right, he will need to cross examine himself and the people around him. Respect, honor, greed, back-stabbing and gratitude rule this film, turning it into an intriguing, emotional and entertaining movie.

With fantastic acting by most, smart, realistic writing, and some emotional scenes, REDBELT delivers an especially big wallop on the intimate side.

Though, with hyper editing and jerky camera-work used for the MMA scenes, the movie tends not to work as well as I would have liked. For a knowledgeable MMA fan, you'll pick up on all the moves, but for someone who doesn't know about MMA and it's techniques, it may seem like a mess.

However, the film is definitely not a mess. Yeah, the ending was a tad too unbelievable, and though the movie shines through it's writing and realistic situations, some scenes felt a little sappy. But the end of the ending was fantastic.

Red Belt doesn't fail at being an action flick; it just succeeds more so at being an entertaining drama with an MMA theme. This is an easy movie to recommend, since it's easily recommendable to all people who believe in having good morals.

The movie would have been perfect if El Guapo was in it. ;)
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I'm in total disbelief
MUSCLEMAN11 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
First I have to apologize if I made mistakes as English is not my first language.

When this movie came out, I refused to watch it. It just seemed like a retarded MMA exploitation movie, like never back down, made to make money from tapout t-shirts wearing teens. I had also heard that the concept of the film was that they were fighting with a handicap, like a hand attached behind the back etc. I mean, how dumb is that seriously.

Yesterday, me and my 2 friends decided to watch the movie. To give you an idea, we all three have martial arts background. My two friends trained kickboxing and boxing for several years and I have myself been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for 5-6 years. We are all film fans, from Haneke to Van Damme. What I mean is that we didn't hate the movie for it's lack of action or for being boring.

I was not familiar with the director but i knew he was praised as a talented director and writer, so we gave the movie a chance.

The plot is set around martial arts, BJJ and MMA in particular. The thing is, it's like the director did not do any research about the subject. It was SO RIDICULOUS to see the main character saying the cheesiest lines ever about his views on martial arts and life. All that samurai nonsense talk was SO over the top and dumb it was embarrassing. It really showed the director had absolutely no clue about the subject.

The script was absolute garbage. Are we really supposed to believe that a gigantic conspiracy was setup, all of this within a few days, to actually steal what would appear to any normal human being as the dumbest idea ever; the concept that the fighter that picks the black rock or whatever has to fight with a handicap. Let me be clear to all of you with no martial art background; the guy with the handicap has the percentage of 0 chance to win the fight. I mean come on people. Of course, the conspiracy continues when the magician (who of course has a piercing in his eyebrow) is hired to fix the outcome of the fights! Are we really supposed to believe that the cop would kill himself for pretty much no reason! That Tim Allen (who is playing a big Hollywood tough guy actor for some reason) would give a 20 000$ watch to a stranger and than disappear when it is discovered that the watch has been stolen? Beyound stupid. and I'm not even going to mention the ending nonsense.

I don't think Chiwetel Ejiofor is necessarily a bad actor, but he was just not the right guy to play the part. He doesn't look tough, particularly intelligent or charismatic.

Finally, the fight scenes. They were so poorly executed it was embarrassing to watch. BJJ is not at all a flashy martial art as is let's say karate but still it was absolute garbage. The fight scenes were a mix of Steven Seagal stuff mixed with elementary school yard type wrestling.

This movie had IMO absolutely 0 positive aspect. Even the hot girlfriend (way to hot for the hobo looking Chiwetel Ejiofor) turned out to be a backstabbing bitch! I just cannot understand how some of you might think this is remotely close to being a good film. It would have made sense if we would live in a fantasy world.
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A Martial Artist's opinion
Chris Gilbert12 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I have watched this movie when it first came out and by the end of it I was left with a sense of emptiness and confusion, like, what the hell just happened??

OK, to be honest I am not a big fan of cheesy dramas with plots were the main character is basically a washed out loser like Mike Terry is portrayed. But, because I am a big fan of martial arts movies and since I practice BJJ, I decided to give it a shot.

The movies starts with the typical drama plot but somehow keeps me interested because I am curious about the character development, that is until Mike starts preaching his "no colored belt philosophy", that a black belt is given to the people he thinks deserve it… wow, where do you come up with this? Lol…. And, after only a few classes, not years, classes, Mike gives a black belt to his new protégée!?!

Honestly, any person that trains martial arts for a long time can't help but feel mad about the complete disrespectful message this movie sends regarding every black belt in the world that trained long hard years to achieve it. On average it takes 10 years of hard continuous training to get a Jiu Jitsu black belt. About 5 years for Karate. Not a couple of weeks like the movie implies… No wonder that more and more MacDojos are just giving them away like lollies just to get students…

Anyways, the movie goes on, blah blah blah, more rubbish dramatic philosophies; "Oh, but why won't you fight??" Asks the wife. " Because it goes against my principles" Says the husband…

SPOILER ALERT!! All this builds up for the great finale: The worst fight ever against one of the best BJJ masters, 6th degree black belt John Machado. Mike Terry easily wins the fight, wipes the dust off and is given a Red belt which in REAL LIFE is the highest achievement in Jiu Jitsu and Martial Arts in general. Roll the credits.

What a joke!!!
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Good Action, also good acting......a little shaky throughout.
mikegsu728 August 2008
This is certainly an entertaining movie. The action was really fun to watch. There was nothing unbelievable, which was a nice change for a martial arts film. The acting was even good. The issue I had, was it was a little shaky coming down the runway. You had characters dropping out, and a little of the dialog was strange. Overall, I would recommend it. Nice to watch. On a personal preference level, not a fan of the ending, but I may be alone on that. This is not like any other film I have seen. I give it a 9 for originality. I give it a 8 for action. I give it a 7 for plot, and a 4 for ending. Thanks, I hope you enjoy(ed) the movie!!
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Brazilian jujitsu for the brain as well as body
James J Cremin8 April 2008
Last night, I attended the premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Writer director David Mamet gave a brief introduction before presenting what he is known for, a very intriguing story with several characters that have their own agendas and who will deceive to get what they want.

The protagonist is Mike Terry as played with smoldering intensity by Chiwetel Ejiorfor, who've I've seen before in supporting roles in "American Gangster" and "Talk to Me." Generally, he's generally is every single scene and the audience will discover the plot twists the same time he does.

The first scene begins with Ejiofor as a jujitsu instructor, shouting "Breath, breathe, there is always a way out," as he oversees two contestants Max Martini and Jose Pablo Cantino having quite an intense workout that almost has fatal consequences until Ejorfor intervenes. Once that's over, a neurotic Emily Mortimer enters and the surprises really begin from that point forward.

Ejiofor's wife is played by Alice Braja, niece of Sonia, and we quickly learn that the jujitsu we just saw was Brazilian style. I will include here all songs heard in this are modern bossa nova really adding a Brazilian ambiance to the tone of the film. That the martial art technique was originally developed in Japan, there's that element as well.

Tim Allen gives a very non-comedic performance and in fact has just a supporting role in this. I will give no spoilers as the main fun of a David Mamet script is discovering the plot twists and for those who like that, will not be disappointed.

So, from the man who gave the public "The Verdict", "Glendarry Glen Ross", "Wag the Dog", "Ronin" among many others, a thoughtful and very entertaining movie.
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this movie just doesn't deliver
apocalypse_ciao12 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this yesterday and wished I read through these comments because I would've stayed at home.

The beginning of the movie showed a lot of promise. Ambiguous characters, unraveling, with Mamet at the director's chair.

But that unraveling is what didn't translate at all to me. I could not for the life of me figure out why his friend commits suicide. The reason the film gives is because of a watch that was stolen or pawned, what the hell? And as far as the "climax" of the film, why did the fight to the death exist? To get money for his friend's widowed wife? Out of vengeance for his girlfriend's betrayal? To get back at the Brazilian "mafia" for setting up the fight and stealing his proverb?

If it was for the last reason stated, then great, but it just seemed way too ambiguous and exhausting to look deeper, at that point, I just wanted the movie to end. But if that's the case, it all seemed to contradict the main character's "integrity" which he seemed so intent on defending at all costs. And also, he shouldn't have gotten the Redbelt if that were the case.
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I really don't understand the praise this movie is getting
noava223 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
******NOTE: Just as a forewarning, this MAY have a spoiler in it, but I'm trying to be as vague as possible.

I saw this movie in a classroom setting, where we watch the film, digest, and discuss a week later. The class had mixed feelings about it...more disliking it than liking it. I understand that David Mamet is a very talented man, and he does a good job of bringing across the central theme of the movie, from beginning to end. The characters were very nuanced individuals and very entertaining ... confusingly engrossing, if you will. Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in a great performance, and Mamet captures intensity on the screen very, very well.

However, the movie has a very pivotal turning point towards the end. Mamet does a great job of winding a story seamlessly into a huge culmination of tension towards the end, and at the conclusion..I was stunned. I was laughing, almost in tears, at how *bad* the ending was.

Maybe I don't get the genre, maybe I don't understand some of the context that was unspoken throughout the film...but the ending was a very disappointing crown to what could have been an amazing film.
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what a load of crap!
aaschkex2 September 2008
just watched this last night. the dialogues are a joke. the whole crowd in the cinema was laughing its arse off at the pseudophilosophic trash that just kept on coming. the plot just jumps into a story that just isn't one. as for the fight scenes, the director obviously tried to create an immediate sense of the fight by using close up camera work and a blurry effect. admittedly jiu jitsu probably isn't easy to portray as epically as say taekwondo or karate. but even the supposedly epic showdown at the end had more of a drunk bar fight. and the moral of the story? you can redeem yourself and make all that has gone wrong good again if you only beat one corrupt guy to a pulp. what a waste of time!
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"Redbelt" - The Code of the Samurai
dee.reid14 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
To call the new martial arts film from writer-director David Mamet, "Redbelt," a martial arts film is a bit of an understatement, or a cruel simplification. While martial arts, specifically Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, plays a prominent role in "Redbelt," it's really more about honor - samurai honor, although there's no swordplay on display here. As a fan of martial arts movies, I found "Redbelt" to be a great departure from most of what's commonly seen in the genre, and I just might call this the third best martial arts movie made in the United States - behind "The Karate Kid" (1984) and "Best of the Best" (1989), respectively.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has become one of two de facto fighting styles in modern mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, the other being Muay Thai. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a reformation of traditional Japanese Judo, was founded in the early 20th century by two Brazilian businessmen, Carlos and Helio Gracie, after being trained by a Japanese Judo master, and the Gracies later issued the infamous "Gracie Challenge" to take on the world's best fighters. Then, in 1993, their style became world-famous when Gracie descendant Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), thus sparking a revolution in the martial arts community. While a lot of fighting styles focus on striking, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's emphasis is on grappling, specifically ground fighting, often defeating opponents with submission (or "tapping out") techniques via various choke-holds, joint locks, and strangulations.

OK, so the history lesson is now over.

In Mamet's "Redbelt," Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a BJJ purist who runs a small martial arts dojo in California training members of the police and military. He's loyal to the code, and will not compete in the increasingly profitable world of televised MMA competition, although he is related by marriage (to Alice Braga as his wife, Sondra) to the sport's royal family and its current champion, Ricardo Silva (played by real-life BJJ expert John Machado), who is his brother-in-law. After saving the life of a Hollywood action star named Chet Frank (played with believable world-weary, early-stage alcoholism by Tim Allen) during a bar-room brawl - a fight that is as brutal and realistic as it is choreographed - Frank contacts Mike to serve as a producer and technical adviser on his latest picture.

It turns out that this encounter was a blessing: an incident at his dojo one night has forced him close to bankruptcy (among other financial woes) and having him to pay visits to local loan sharks to get this thing resolved; this same incident also leads to the suicide of one of his top students, echoing the Japanese concept of "seppuku" - ritualistic suicide - another staple of samurai movies. But a series of pecks along the way with his new friends have gotten Mike into even more trouble, and have him reconsidering his choice to not fight in televised competition.

While "Redbelt" is extremely well-written (Mamet's greatest gift as a filmmaker) and acted with some excellent fight choreography, fault can be found in a lack of actual combat, although there are some brief encounters here and there, and the movie does end in a rather brutal brawl at an MMA competition. However, the movie does seem to rush through its plot machinations to arrive at this conclusion, leaving many things - it would seem - unresolved, such as the fate of Chet Frank and his role in the conspiracy against Mike, or the seemingly tacked-on teacher-student relationship between Mike and Laura (Emily Mortimer). Mike is a character who is loyal to a code analogous to Japanese Bushido ("way of the warrior"), and puts this above everything else. But the question is then asked: How does one face so many insurmountable odds and still maintain their integrity? The answer is, you just work with the forces opposing you, rather than against them.

MMA fans may not get a whole lot from "Redbelt" (despite appearances by several famous faces, including former UFC champ Randy Couture and Jeet Kune Do Concepts instructor Dan Inosanto) but that was not the intention of the film. Mamet's point here is honor, not solving things with your fists (even though that is kind of a moot point here). I appreciate the time spent in letting Mike seem like a real person caught in a really dire situation while trying desperately to hang on to his principles.

And that is what loyalty to the code, to one's teacher or master and earning one's black belt (or red belt) in a fighting discipline, truly entails.

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An MMA Dramedy
HawkHerald19 January 2016
MMA, Bushido and Brazilian Jiu-Jistu seem to set the tone for this movie. A veteran and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor makes bad business deals, unintentionally wrecks his friend's life by giving him stolen property, lies to his insurer about how his school's front window was broken, and to cap it off is alienated and separated from his wife. He's also easily taken advantage of and shares his Bushido-inspired training method with the blind fold martial arts pebble taste test, which is usurped by the bad guy MMA promoters for making up the rules of their tournament. The rules say that the guys who draws the black pebble will fight with a disadvantage. So a guy in the movie with competes with his arm strapped to his side.

Wow, really, this MMA card would have to take place in Japan or an Native American casino because no state athletic commission that licenses boxing and MMA would allow something so stupid to took place. Japan loves it's pro wrestling, sumos, and Herculean Western strong men so it's known for it's rock opera and circus-like approach to MMA promotion. Native American reservations are outside of state regulations, but even the more reputable tribal group have their own form of athletic commission for regulations.

The problems of the Chiwetel Ejiofor character seem to just drop on him like a pile of bricks. His wife is also painted as a greedy shrew. It's waste of a performance from Ejiofor, who's actually very good in this and comes as capable and honorable. He's just so frustratingly naive and the way his personal and professional life are ruined is so far-fetched. Emily Mortimer is also well cast as a rape survivor and lawyer whom Ejiofor befriends when she wanders into his school for help. The story is supposed a type of honorable-at-all-costs samurai film but just fails with the soap opera-level tragedies the main character endures.
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Ejiofor shines in one of the best written films of the decade.
dead4754821 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
For years now I've believed that Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of the most underrated actors around. For those looking for proof, go no further than Redbelt. He delivers one of the most commanding performances of the decade in this film that brings a man down to his complete boiling point and shows the true virtue of having honor. David Mamet's script is something to swoon over. The writing, as always, is crisp, powerful and well-educated. However for once, the brilliance in his script comes more from the plot than the dialogue. Yes, the dialogue is phenomenal, but there's something in the way that every little scene comes together near the end and results in a huge turning point in the film that amazes me.

Early on in the film, attorney Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) stumbles into Mike Terry's (Ejiofor) jiu-jitsu gym and accidentally fires a police officer's gun through a window. She pays to have it fixed and this establishes a bond between her and Terry that grows throughout the film. Ejiofor and Mortimer bounce very well off of each other, each giving an astounding performance. Later that night, Terry goes to his brother-in-law's (Rodrigo Santoro) bar to ask for a loan. His wife (Alice Braga) and him are quickly running out of money and they're hoping for some help to pay the rent. When he's leaving the bar, he sees actor Chet Frank (Tim Allen) getting into a brawl with some guys. Terry steps in and takes the men down, saving Frank. This bond establishes a friendship between Terry and Frank that brings him into a wealthy world full of corruption and dishonor which uses him and his wife up for all they're worth and then throws them out. As an act of gratitude the day after Terry saves Frank, he receives a watch in the mail. To show his appreciation to the police officer for not pressing charges on the attorney who fired a round near him, Terry gives the officer the watch.

Now, none of these scenes are made to be epic in any way. They appear as well-written filler throughout the story of Mike being thrown into this world of corruption, but they end up being much more than that. Chet Frank's agent (Joe Mantegna) steals Terry's training regime and sells it to some producers of a mixed martial arts tournament who are looking for a new hook. Black serves as Terry's attorney as they go to sue the producers for stealing his idea, and everything looks like it's going to finally turn in Terry's favor until the opposing attorney reveals that he knows about Black firing the round at the police officer in Terry's gym and all three of them can go to jail if they don't back off. This so magnificently shows the genius in Mamet's writing. Small scenes that appear almost insignificant early on turn into something much greater late in the film.

Redbelt is a true success and features a bounty of phenomenal performances. Tim Allen is surprisingly excellent in his first serious role. It's a shame that he disappears halfway through, but it's necessary in terms of story. Mortimer shines, as always, in a role that has an immense amount of depth beneath the surface. The true driving force of the film, though, is Chiwetel Ejiofor. A commanding, stoic force that shows calmness in the first two acts and erupts in the finale. The action is compelling, the performances are extraordinary and the writing is beyond crisp. Redbelt perfectly demonstrates the power of having honor in your body and your mind with a final scene that defines the word 'rewarding'.
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Red Belt deserves a Yellow Belt
keitharan15 May 2008
Advertising an all-star cast, the trailer for Red Belt, and two generous reviews from otherwise reliable TV sources, inspired hope in me that Red Belt might reset the bar for martial arts action films, marking an end to the Bruce Lee era, exiting that dragon and entering a new era of fight realism adjoined to excellence in cinema. I believe David Mamet wanted to make such a movie in Red Belt, and failed.

Key themes in Red Belt, and the overriding moral dilemma confronted by the lead character, simply did not amount to much. They present a character, Mike Terry, self-defense instructor, man with profound conviction to his principles, place him in a silly, laughable, and totally unbelievable situation, and gets worse from here.

There are few fight scenes in Red Belt, and this was okay by me because the goal, I thought, was to make a real movie, unlike film fodder from Charles Norris et al,where plots are the meek excuse for flashy, over-choreographed fight action at every street corner, and good guys always prevail.

Sadly, problems for Red Belt begin at the plot, which was not terribly engaging or inspiring, and riddled with more holes than gay porn. Some plot development was just plain silly, and other story lines, like the idea that professional fighters in the violent cage of MMA, would sign onto a fight card and willingly subject themselves to a severe physical handicap - an arm tied down to the waist,and face a fighter sans handicap, or that a state regulatory agency would give the stamp of approval to such an event, is absurd, if not downright boneheaded. The whole idea of pitting unequals against each other, is contrary to the essence of MMA, where men bring their very best against that of other men. How Mamet lost sight of this is beyond me.

Besides the plot's fatal flaws, the fight scenes are sabotaged by poor camera angles, and less than thrilling technique. No disrespect to the fight choreographers, Rico Chiapparelli and John Machado, both of whom could beat me down with a mild case of halitosis,the fight scenes in Red Belt could have been more dynamic and still manage to capture realism. Even the two fight scenes critical to the plot, were dull. MMA and BJJ enthusiasts will be disappointed.

A few twists of the camera lens, an omoplata here, a gogoplata there, could not have rescued Red Belt from its flawed plot, but would have made a difference to appreciating the fight aspect of the film. And, for BJJ & MMA fans, who I gather make up a noteworthy fraction of Red Belt's audience, more dynamic fight action would have shaken some focus off the insufferable plot,and offered something worthwhile to jabber upon. At this end, the trick that Mamet missed was to achieve interesting, exciting fight action, and unfortunately,as fight action goes, Red Belt taps to a submission in the first round,via guillotine choke.

I am a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mike Terry, lead character), and I would not have gone to Red Belt had he, or an actor of his caliber not starred in the movie. In this role I found myself liking him, but feeling relatively neutral about it. This I am sure is due to the plot issues, and unimpressive script. It is not bad writing, nor is it good, and I expected better from a Mamet film. And Ejiofor, should he want to go down the path of action star,deserves a better vehicle.

The tag line for Red Belt, "There is always a way out. You just have to find it," is a hokey rip from BJJ academies. It is cheesy to build a script upon cliché. They also abuse the axiomatic wit that martial artists say about the colored belt system, that belts are symbolic and, "just hold up your pants" - a poor choice to embrace twice, and canned lines of this ilk are no help to an already struggling script.

Red Belt did have an all-star cast including cameos by notable MMA/BJJ enthusiasts from the acting world, and all-stars from the MMA world. But,no outstanding performances, not even Ejiofor.

I need to be fair and note that I was expecting the MMA guys to be awkward and stiff under the lens, but they were not half-bad, and exceeding my expectations. I enjoyed seeing familiar faces, like Frank 'TTs' Trigg who showed up in a couple scenes, but no lines despite showing crossover talent at other venues. Randy Couture was surprisingly good. Not great, but good. And I'm not just saying that to spare myself a beating from a man who is arguably the biggest bad-ass to ever pummel the planet.

I would be remiss not to say that I did not hear one mention of the Gracie family in Red Belt. There is something just wrong about that. The movie, at its end, was all about paying homage and honor to a grand master, and dismissing the Gracie name is the equivalent to not mentioning Bruce Lee in a documentary about martial arts movies. I suspect personal rivalries are behind this decision.

Time to ring the bell on the final round: - MMA & BJJ fans will be disappointed by the fight scenes. - Fight movie fans will be disappointed that the movie is shy on fight action. -General movie fans will be unimpressed by the script,and aghast at the plot. -Star power could not rescue this movie.

Borrowing on the tag line, for Red Belt there may have been a way out (from the curse of sub-par martial arts movies), but they did not find it.

Unanimous Decision: Red Belt deserves a Yellow Belt.
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Good to... umm... what?
davw-624 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILER ALERT! Where to begin. I was saving my coveted 1 rating for Howard the Duck 3 or Coneheads 4 or something, but my god, what the heck happened here?? It all started off great... good story, interesting characters, and it was all building nicely. Not picture of the year or anything, but a good movie nonetheless... I was actually interested in the main character and I wanted to see some resolution to his moral dilemma.... does he fight? does he keep his values? Just as it is building, he knocks out a few cops and ko's the champ, meanders into the ring and is handed a red belt. Roll the credits. Hmm. Did they run out of money? Is there a real ending out there? Why do I care about the red belt? Why does the professor give him the belt? Does he pay off his debts? Do the rest of the police come and whup him something fierce? I am so ticked about this movie.. I was cheering for the guy, then it ended. It would be like Rocky 2, where adrian is in the hospital, rocky is conflicted, then.....roll the credits. HEY, WRITERS, A MOVIE NEEDS AN ENDING!! WHERE CAN I GET MY $ BACK????
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What a waste!
aemacarter4 September 2008
OK, I have one word: LAME! First of all I thought the acting resembled acting, especially the obnoxious promoter guy. I swear it sounded as if he was reading his lines off of cue cards. And why did they use an actor in Terry's role. And what was the point of Tim Allen and Joe Mantegna's characters? Why couldn't they have used an actual martial arts instructor? I just felt this was awful, like that Eric Roberts-Christopher Penn drivel.....what was that called? I felt like this was just a lot of build up for the eventual fight we see between Terry and some Brazilian guy. I couldn't follow who was related to who and what the drive was. Terry is so idealistic that when he stands by his ideals and morals it just falls flat. (Best of the Best or something is that other movie I just referenced). I would definitely not recommend this movie at all. I'd rather watch the Karate Kid movies, including the third one with Hilary Swank!
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More than Jiu-Jitsu
jdesando5 May 2008
"Never stop fighting 'til the fight is done." Mamet's Untouchables.

From Jackie Chan gymnastics to Crouching Tiger fantasy and all martial arts in between, if you are watching to witness bloody realism, then go to snuff movies because most mainstream filmmakers would wish you to see the metaphor in the mayhem rather than the shock in the schlock. David Mamet's Redbelt is more than a Jiu-Jitsu competition for the highest belt; in the best tradition of complicated fight films, this competition is for the principled soul of academy owner/instructor Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the fight representing a challenge to his long-standing Samurai principle that "a competition is not a fight." Mamet's love affair with crisp crude language (See Spartan and Glengarry Glen Ross for starters) is in this film still a staccato rhythm mixed with minimal dialogue emphasizing the great issues such as authenticity and honesty rather than expletives. Mike is unwittingly thrown into the maelstrom of a con, which he should be able to evade according to his mantra that there is always an escape.

The academy needs cash; Terry is maneuvered by slick operatives to fight for $50, 000, contrary to his belief in the authenticity of a real fight and the sham of competition. What happens next is minor for the outcome but major for seeing the corruption of those around the fighter. It's all a house of cards, to pick the title of one of Mamet's challenging films. The playwright, director is constantly facing his heroes with con games that threaten their sense of right in an essentially chaotic universe.

Redbelt may be one of Mamet's less dense films, but it still reflects a filmmaker dedicated to unearthing the ambiguity through the metaphors of gritty, violent daily life, in which principle will not always defeat betrayal. I am thankful this film is neither the fantasy of so many Asian martial arts films these days, nor is it the inane romance of Never Back Down. "It is what it is," as today's tough guys might say, and that's a violent concept just right in the age of Iraq and presidential politics.
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Unfocused, convoluted, disjointed.....the director lost his way
LeedsPokerGuru14 July 2008
I'm a huge MMA fan and was looking forward to this so much. The result akin to leaving a restaurant after an evening meal still hungry. It just doesn't scratch the itch. Mamet wrote and directed this one and he did a bad job on both parts.

The cast was good on paper. The acting from Chiwetel Ejiofor was one of the films leading lights. He brought sincereness, warmth and good old fashion likability to the films main character who's personal code was based on honour. The other actors did nothing to inspire or impress me which is a shame considering the cast. This leads me to question Mamet's direction of them. Maybe he was within himself too much to lead the cast or gave them bad direction.

The story I can appreciate on some levels. The main character has a clear ethical code which dictates his actions. There were less obvious meanings to characters motivations and actions. It's all well and good not spoon feeding audiences and giving them credit for intelligence to work things out. However when that comes at the cost of an unclear, flimsy, disjointed story telling then just give me Rocky with MMA. Sadly I feel Mamet was too into his own story to take a step back and evaluate what's going on from an audiences point of view. He was trying to be too fancy and deep and just missed the mark.

Production values were OK but the movie never really sprung to life. Not enough action for me. The action present left me numb. Even the last action sequence left me flat and disappointed. There was never anything that made you sit up and draw you in which means you're never going to get a climax to the film.

As it stands Never Back Down is a better MMA film. I live in hope of an MMA film that delivers high on realistic action with strong characters and good story telling.
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Mesmerizing Tour De Force
pegasus312 May 2008
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 film-making.
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