Redbelt – ***1/2
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alice Braga, Tim Allen, Rodrigo Santoro, Emily Mortimer, Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Max Martini
Written and Directed by David Mamet
David Mamet is undoubtedly a great playwright. Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo will stand up among the true greats of Western theatre for many years to come. On film though, he’s never gained the consistency of his stage work. The best filmic work from Mamet is his first work, House of Games, a ridiculously over-plotted but hugely enjoyable game about deceit. The absolute best thing with his mark on its Glengarry, directed by James Foley and all the better for it.
Redbelt is his latest to be both written and directed by the man himself and it contains all the joys and misgivings of his other dual-controlled efforts in the past. The story is basically about a struggling Jiu Jitsu teacher (played really well by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is having money troubles. We then meet a rolling set of characters, all of whom have complicatedly hidden agendas, and we carry on towards a convoluted but controlled ending.
Its not a bad film at all and has much going for it. Ejiofor is really good and most of the cast fair fine with the Mamet-ian dialogue, here cranked up to ten. Mamet regulars Joe Mantegna and Ricky Jay turn up to chew his words into oblivion, Mantegna fairing far better than Jay who looks physically troubled by the sheer amount he has to say. At points, he seems close to collapse. The rest fine too but this film is most notable for how good it looks. Filmed by There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit, this is the best looking film Mamet’s ever made. Elswit films the scenes with great skill, proving respite from the incessant, expertly over-written dialogue.
Redbelt is a decent little movie and deserving of some of your time but be prepared. Like anything from Mamet, you have to be prepared for lots of unnecessary talking, overlapping conversations and, more so maybe here than nearly any other, the stakes being raised to skyscraper height with betrayal after betrayal before a slightly unsatisfying ending. Close to his best though for Ejiofor and Elswit’s photography.