David Mamet, that master of quick repartees, rapid-fire dialogue and cleverly convoluted narratives is at it again. This time the setting for “Redbelt” is primarily in an Los Angeles martial arts studio where Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) teaches students Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Mike is unquestionably a man of honor. There is, he says, no situation from which you cannot escape, and you know that in a Mamet movie, we will learn a lot more than ways to get out of a hold on the mats.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY David Mamet
STARRING Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alice Braga, Tim Allen, Max Martini, Emily Mortimer, Joe Mantegna, David Paymer and Ricky Jay
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
Ejiofor is terrific as the stoical master who soon finds himself in dire straits, locked in a virtual stranglehold of hard times. It begins when Laura Black, a disoriented, drug-addled attorney played by Emily Mortimer, rushes into his studio where she seeks help from Mike and his student, a cop played by Max Martini, who has just laid his service revolver down on a ledge.
True to form, the gun must go off, and it does, thanks to a hysterical lunge by Black, the bullet crashing through a window. Rather than bring dishonor to the studio by arresting the attorney, the cop lets her go. Surely, it will all be covered by insurance.
No need to detail how that part of the story evolves, but before it all ends, we meet Chet Frank, a TV star played by Tim Allen. After Mike defends him in a club, Chet invites Mike and his wife (Alice Braga) to dinner. There, they meet a mysterious manager-con man played by Mamet regular Joe Mantegna. Before long, we encounter a promoter (Ricky Jay) and other shady characters like one played by David Paymer.
Mamet weaves these characters in and out of a plot that may send some viewers into a cyclone of frustration. Be advised, therefore, that Mamet will not, as usual, dole out conventional storylines. He is not, for instance, done with the shamed attorney, who will figure in the resolve of a climactic scene. Nor will we instantly deduce just what each character is up to. The bonus is that there will be time after the experience to reflect on lines and actions, including a slap near the film’s end.
In other instances, you may conclude that Mamet is into some of the scenes for the kicks. Like a jazz soloist, he riffs on a theme with playful abandon. As I mentioned, this Mametian tendency may prove vexing for those looking for a conventionally coherent melody, but for some of us, it’s fun just the same.
With Ejiofor standing above the rest, the performances are uniformly excellent. Just as important, Mamet stays on track with his theme of honor and the possibility that escaping from an impossible situation is not always as difficult as we may first think. Still, as the movie details with the demise of one character, not everyone succeeds in overcoming despair. On the other hand, we may contemplate the notion that it is better to die with honor than to have no honor at all.
May I add for the timid ladies and gents in the room that you do not have to like physical combat to enjoy “Redbelt.”