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Redbelt. Written and Directed by David Mamet. With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emily Mortimer, Alice Braga, Tim Allen, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna, Max Martini, Rebecca Pidgeon. 99 min. Video release 2009.

That playwright David Mamet self-identified as a reformed conservative just after the release of Redbelt, his tenth film as a director, should come as no surprise. Mamet's television program, The Unit, is undergirded by strict values. Mixed Martial Arts, the culture Mamet explores in Redbelt, promotes patriotism with militarist fervor. MMA sells a new masculinity. According to L. Jon Wertheim, author of Blood in the Cage, an exploration of the Mixed Martial Arts phenomenon, after September 11th and the start of the Iraq war, attitudes toward tough, aggressive American men improved (Only a Game Interview). As a result, the second President Bush played a tough-guy, Jack Bauer cleaned things up in twenty-four hours, and MMA found a popular audience. Redbelt strives for toughness, but the film's protagonist, Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), embodies an ancient purity that countervails the showy machismo found in media stunts, television shows, and MMA cages.

it is no secret that Mamet loathes those who work against committed individuals, especially artists with real vision, people like, well, David Mamet. In Redbelt, a corrupt business culture is represented by unsavory Mixed Martial Arts fight promoters and a duplicitous Hollywood actor and his entourage. According to the film, MMA bouts are controlled by individuals who lack honor and who know nothing about the sport's traditions, history, or beauty. Mamet made a similar argument in Bambi vs. Godzilla (2007), his how-to-book about filmmaking and screenwriting. In that book, Mamet blamed producers for the sorry condition of America's film business. His longtime collaborators Ricky Jay and Joe Mantegna portray sleazy producers in Redbelt. Hoping to toughen himself up, Tim Allen plays Chet Frank, a spineless movie star. In contrast, Mike Terry is a jujitsu master who runs a small martial arts academy on the south side of Los Angeles. Terry believes in what he does, and therefore his business suffers. Money does not drive him. People come to him to train, and he restores his clients' belief in themselves. Terry never displays his own formidable martial arts skills. Mamet establishes Terry as a modern representative of the samurai ideal--honor grounds his existence. Recognizing Terry as a simulacrum for Mamet is not difficult.

While working with his prize pupil, Joe Collins (Max Martini), an LA cop, Terry emphasizes the need to maintain respect, even within the threatening street culture Collins faces daily. Terry reminds him, "There's always a way out. You just have to find it." Snowflake (Jose Pablo Cantillo), one of Terry's employees, believes Collins deserves black-belt status. 'Ferry knows Collins possesses the technical skills, but he is not sure if the cop places thought before circumstance. Laura Black (Emily Mortimer), a lawyer wildly out of place on the south side of LA, where she has landed in search of a late-night pharmacy, enters the academy because she scraped a truck parked on the street outside. When Collins tries to help her, she mistakes his actions, grabs his revolver, and shoots out the front window of the academy, a signifier indicating the corruption about to flow in. Terry cannot afford replace the window. His wife Sondra (Alice Braga), who runs her own successful business, sends him to her brother for a loan. She is angry with her husband because he refuses to use his skills in mixed martial arts competitions. For Terry, discipline and skill are not marketplace commodities.

Then, the standard Mamet double-cross kicks in, and the film begins to lose all credibility. At his brother-in-law's bar, Terry defends Chet Frank. Frank gives Terry a lavish gift and seems to be the answer to the master's financial problems. Nothing in Mamet's creations is as it seems, and Terry is forced into a major MMA competition.

Redbelt is a sports film that talks. Mamet's passion for Brazilian jujitsu is as strong as his passion for poker once was. Mamet, a high-school wrestler and boxer, intellectualizes martial arts. Fie thinks about the sport like a writer, and therefore Terry's spiritual quest outweighs his physical performance. MMA fans will recognize figures from their world: Ultimate Fighting Championship legend Randy Couture, Dan Inosanto, Gene LeBell, Rico Chiapparelli, Enson Inoue, Frank Trigg, and John Machado. Redbelt concludes with the inescapable climatic bout, but Mamet changes this sport-film cliche enough to generate interest, until he turns to slow-motion images. Still, Redbelt's plot cannot withstand close scrutiny. Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mike Terry is an intriguing figure, one tern in iscent of Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog, a character that fully realizes the anachronistic condition of a samurai trapped by modernity. larmusch's Ghost Dog is cinematic poetry, and it avoids theatrical machinations to make its points, edbelt suffers from too much testosterone.

Jack Ryan

Gettysburg College
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Author:Ryan, Jack
Publication:Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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