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Sunday, May 11, 2008

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Posted By on Sun, May 11, 2008 at 3:22 PM

MOVIEGOER REVIEW:  REDBELT

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the subject of David Mamet's melodic new drama "Redbelt" starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Mamet, an accomplished playwright, screenwriter and author, wrote and directed this drama, the first time he has served in both capacities since 2004's "Spartan," a dark and edgy drama about the kidnapping of the daughter of a high ranking government official.

In "Redbelt," Mamet steps away from politics (his new play, "November," starring Nathan Lane opened on Broadway earlier this year) and into a world he knows quite well.  Mamet is a student of jiu-jitsu, a sport that has been in existence since the early 20th century, but only recently gained national prominence when Royce Gracie won four consecutive Ultimate Fighting Championships from 1993 to 1996.

In the film, Ejiofor plays jiu-jitsu instructor Mike Terry.  Terry runs a school in Los Angeles that is losing money. He refuses to participate in competitions because he believes it weakens the sport and the competitor.  Unlike the thousands of people competing in mixed martial arts competitions (and making lots of money), Terry remains a purist, much to his financial detriment.

Late one evening, after he's completed a class, a young woman enters the school.  She's disturbed, and mistakenly fires a gun through the school's front window.  A minor event in most cases, but it sets in motion a series of events that force Terry into competition for money.

In an interesting and welcomed role, Tim Allen stars as the action movie star Chet Frank.  He's saved by Terry when he enters a bar one night, without guards, and nearly gets pummeled for hitting on another man's girlfriend.  Terry steps to his defense, and Frank falls in his debt.  But as in many of Mamet's films things are not always as they seen, and this certainly the case here. 

The film is anchored, remarkably, by Mr. Ejiofor.  He's one of the finest actors working today and his performance is captivating.  He's supported by the lovely Emily Mortimer, David Paymer, Joe Mantegna and Mr. Allen.  The supporting roles are small; this Mr. Ejiofor's film.  And it was smart move by Mr. Mamet to cast him.

"Redbelt," is a fine film, with dizzying camera work as it follows the fighters across the mat, flipping and throwing each other around in an effort to force the other into submission.  It's also short, coming in at 99 minutes, and there are aspects that could have been better developed.   But that is minor flaw in what is otherwise an admirable effort all around.

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