|Directed by||David Mamet|
|Written by||David Mamet|
|Produced by||Chrisann Verges|
|Edited by||Barbara Tulliver|
|Music by||Stephen Endelman|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics|
|Box office||$2.7 million|
Redbelt is a 2008 American martial arts film written and directed by David Mamet and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Randy Couture, Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna, Emily Mortimer, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Rodrigo Santoro. The film also features a number of martial arts professionals. It opened in wide release in the United States and Canada on May 9, 2008. The film centers on a martial arts master who struggles to achieve financial stability without compromising on his strict set of morals, and must determine if the latest opportunities in his career are too good to be true.
While closing his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu studio one evening, martial arts teacher Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is approached by attorney Laura Black (Emily Mortimer), who is seeking the owner of the vehicle she accidentally sideswiped. Off-duty police officer Joe Collins (Max Martini), who was receiving a private lesson from Mike, sees that Laura is distressed and tries to take her coat. Startled, Laura grabs Joe's gun and it goes off, shattering the studio's front window. To avoid having Laura charged with attempted murder, Mike and Joe agree to conceal the event.
Mike's insurance, however, will not cover his act of God claim that the window was broken by a strong wind. Mike's wife Sondra (Alice Braga), whose fashion business profits are the only thing keeping the struggling studio afloat, requests that Mike ask for a loan from her brother Ricardo (John Machado), a mixed martial arts champion. At Ricardo's nightclub, Mike meets with Sondra's other brother, Bruno (Rodrigo Santoro), and learns that Joe quit as the club's bouncer because Bruno never paid him. Mike confronts Bruno about the situation but is rebuffed. Mike then declines Bruno's offer to fight on the undercard of an upcoming match between Ricardo and Japanese legend Morisaki (Enson Inoue), which could potentially pay out $50,000. Mike believes all competitions are not honorable and weaken the fighter.
Meanwhile, aging Hollywood action star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) enters the nightclub without security and is accosted by a man with a broken bottle. Mike intervenes and subdues three men in the process. The following day, Mike receives an expensive watch and an invitation to dinner from Chet. Mike gives the watch to Joe to pawn in lieu of his unpaid salary at the nightclub. At the dinner party, Chet's wife Zena (Rebecca Pidgeon) arranges an informal business deal to buy a large number of dresses from Sondra's company. Chet, impressed by Mike, invites him to the set of his current film. As Mike and Sondra leave the dinner, Mike explains his unique training method to Chet's business associate Jerry Weiss (Joe Mantegna). Before a sparring match, each fighter must draw one of three marbles, two white and one black; whoever draws a black marble has to fight with a handicap.
Mike uses his military experience to answer a few technical questions for Chet on the film set and is offered the role of co-producer. That evening, Mike faxes the details of his training methods to Jerry so they can be used in the film. Joe arrives at the studio and informs Mike that he was suspended from duty for pawning the watch, which turned out to be stolen. During their dinner that evening, Mike relays the information to Jerry who excuses himself to handle the matter, but never returns. At home, Mike learns that the phone numbers that Zena gave Sondra have been disconnected. Sondra is panicky, having borrowed $30,000 from a loan shark (David Paymer) to order the fabric for the dresses. As he meets with the loan shark to discuss an extension, Mike notices Bruno and Marty Brown (Ricky Jay) on television using Mike's marble-drawing method as a promotional gimmick for the undercard fights of Ricardo's match.
Mike hires Laura to sue, but Marty's lawyer threatens that if they do not drop the lawsuit, he will give the police an empty shell casing with Laura's fingerprints, as proof that she attempted to kill an off-duty cop. He also threatens Mike as a witness who covered up the crime by bribing the cop with a stolen watch. When told of the situation, Joe feels responsible and kills himself. Mike feels obligated to help Joe's financially struggling wife and, in desperate need of money himself, decides to compete as an undercard fighter in the upcoming competition.
At the arena, Mike discovers the fights are being fixed via a magician (Cyril Takayama) using sleight of hand to surreptitiously switch the white and black marbles. Disgusted by this revelation, Mike confronts the conspirators: Marty, Jerry and Bruno who confirm that unknown to the competitors, the fights are handicapped by the fight promoters so as to ensure winning bets. They also reveal that Ricardo is intentionally losing the fight to Morisaki so they can make money on the rematch. Jerry tells Mike that Sondra is the one who told them about Laura shooting the window and Bruno justifies her betrayal by explaining that his sister is too smart to stay with someone who cannot provide for her.
As Mike is exiting the arena, he meets Laura. Their conversation is not audible, but it ends with Laura slapping Mike. Mike then re-enters the arena. He incapacitates several security guards trying to stop him and is ultimately engaged by Ricardo. The audience and camera crews take notice as Mike and Ricardo face off in the arena's corridors. Inspired by the Professor (Dan Inosanto), an elderly martial arts master attending the match, Mike manages to slip a difficult choke hold and defeats Ricardo, making it onto the ring to speak to the Professor personally. He is approached by Morisaki, who offers Mike his ivory-studded belt, previously referred to as a Japanese national treasure, as a sign of respect. He is then approached by the Professor himself, who proceeds to award the coveted red belt to an incredulous Mike, and embraces him, acknowledging his dedication to the art.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry
- Tim Allen as Chet Frank
- Alice Braga as Sondra Terry
- Rodrigo Santoro as Bruno Silva
- Jose Pablo Cantillo as Snowflake
- Randy Couture as Dylan Flynn
- Caroline de Souza Correa as Monica
- Mike Goldberg as Sports Announcer #2
- Damon Herriman as Official
- Dan Inosanto as Joao Moro (The Professor)
- Enson Inoue as Taketa Morisaki
- Ricky Jay as Marty Brown
- John Machado as Ricardo Silva
- Ray Mancini as George
- Joe Mantegna as Jerry Weiss
- Max Martini as Joe Collins
- Emily Mortimer as Laura Black
- David Paymer as Richie
- Rebecca Pidgeon as Zena Frank
- Cyril Takayama as Jimmy Takata
- Jennifer Grey as Lucy Weiss
- Jake Johnson as Guayabera Shirt Man
- Ed O'Neill as Hollywood Producer
Mamet has described Redbelt as a samurai film in the tradition of Kurosawa. He has employed the resources of several members of the MMA community in the making of the film. Randy Couture and Enson Inoue have acting roles, as does Jean Jacques Machado's brother John Machado, who also planned some of the fight choreography. Dan Inosanto also has an acting role.
Mamet has earned the rank of purple belt under the tutelage of Renato Magno, who served as the film's jiu-jitsu consultant.
The film was produced by Chrisann Verges. David Wasco served as production designer. Debra McGuire designed the costumes and Stephen Endelman provided the music. Cinematography was done by Robert Elswit and the film was edited by Barbara Tulliver. John Machado and Rico Chiapparelli were the fight choreographers. Chiwetel Ejiofor's stunt double was Aaron Toney and Tim Allen's stunt double was Todd Warren.
In an interview with Iain Blair of Reuters Life!, Mamet said he was interested in casting Ejiofor for his acting versatility after seeing his performances in Dirty Pretty Things and Kinky Boots, saying, "It's impossible for one guy to be able to play both those parts." Mamet said that Ejiofor's preparation for the film included 12-hour days of physical training, although Ejiofor said that wasn't exactly the norm. Production began around July 2007, with many of the action sequences being filmed at the Pyramid in Long Beach.
Sony Pictures Classics co-founder and co-president Tom Bernard said there were two marketing campaigns for the film, "one directed at MMA guys and another at the more upscale theaters." Commercials and giveaway contests were run on Spike TV, and Mamet was invited to screen the film for members of New York's Lincoln Center.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 68% based on reviews from 145 critics, with an average rating of 6.31/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Mamet's mixed marital[sic] arts morality play weaves between action and intellect but doesn't always hit its target." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 69 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Many critics praised Chiwetel Ejiofor for his performance in the film. For Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King wrote that Ejiofor "brings gravity and grace to Terry's moral dilemma."
Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano described the film as "tricky and engrossing" and "a contemporary noir with a samurai movie interior." Chocano wrote, "Ejiofor brings a calm magnetism and a beatific serenity to his roles that have the effect of knocking you flat -- there's something about this guy that's messianic." While citing Tim Allen's performance as restrained, Chocano wrote "the noir puzzle element is central to the story" and "suffice it to say things get complicated," saying "much of the pleasure is in the surprises."
Several critics called the story reminiscent of films from earlier decades. Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is "entertaining in a pulpy kind of way, like the fight films of the 1930s and '40s, and more accessible than most of Mamet's movies." Ty Burr of The Boston Globe wrote "What Redbelt reminded me of more than anything else was a modern version of a classic film noir, particularly 1950's brilliantly seedy Night and the City, with its pro-wrestling subplot." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called it "a satisfying, unexpectedly involving B-movie that owes as much to old Hollywood as to Greek tragedy."
The ending of the film was criticized by several critics. Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club said "The film unravels a bit in the last few moments, amid unanswered story questions and a simplistic climax, but until that moment, Redbelt is Mamet's richest film of the decade." Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer said "One of the problems with the way Mamet resolves Mike's predicament is that it's ridiculously implausible - even in the context of a far-fetched fight story." Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com said the final scene "might seem far-fetched on a pay-per-view MMA broadcast." Film critic James Berardinelli said "The plot is borderline ridiculous and certainly doesn't stand up to close (or even not-so-close) scrutiny, but there's a level of entertainment to be had watching it unfold in all its strangeness," but also said "taken at face value, there's a degree of satisfaction in the way Redbelt concludes."
Regarding the fight scenes in the film, Rea wrote "Mamet is a master of talk, not action" and said "Redbelt's ultimate Ultimate Fight moment feels sorely lacking." O'Hehir said "the jiu-jitsu scenes are so incoherently shot and edited you can't tell if the fight choreography is any good or not." Berardinelli wrote "Anyone attending with the expectation that this is going to satisfy a primal desire for wall-to-wall combat will be sadly disappointed.
In The Weekly Standard, Sonny Bunch wrote that the film's "heart is not in the twists and turns [...] but a careful character study of a man who lives a life based on honor, and the corrupting influence of money." Bunch said it "takes lack of exposition to a new extreme [...] How does Mamet tell us about Terry's character? Very subtly. Throughout the film we get hints about Terry's life [...] Mamet challenges us to figure out for ourselves what's going on in Terry's head."
The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club named it the 4th best film of 2008, and Mike Russell of the Portland Oregonian named it the 9th best film of 2008.
Box office performance
The film opened in limited release in the United States on May 2, 2008 and grossed $63,361 in 6 theaters, averaging $10,560 per theater. On May 9, 2008, the film opened in wide release in the United States and Canada, and grossed $1,012,435 in 1,379 theaters, ranking #11 at the box office and averaging $734 per theater. It grossed $2.7 million worldwide against a $7 million budget.
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- Iain Blair (2008-05-01). "Iain Blair". Reuters Life!. p. 3. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
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- Steven Rea (2008-05-09). "Tumbling to an implausible end". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
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- Stephen King, "The Best Films of 2008," Entertainment Weekly 1026 (December 19, 2008): 20.
- Carina Chocano (2008-05-02). "David Mamet's contemporary noir film follows a moral code in and out of a jujitsu club". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
- James Berardinelli. "ReelViews Movie Review: Redbelt". ReelViews. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
- Sonny Bunch (2008-05-09). "Honor, Duty, Jiu-Jitsu David Mamet takes on mixed martial arts". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
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