Redbelt

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Switching genres yet again, David Mamet tries a fight movie on for size, and it proves to be an effective fit for the filmmaker-playwright's trademark themes and rhythms.

Set against the backdrop of mixed martial arts, which combines jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing and kickboxing, "Redbelt" has all the ingredients in place to emerge as one of his more commercial efforts while still remaining true to those distinct Mamet sensibilities.

As the heart and soul of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor once again impresses as Mike Terry, a committed jiu-jitsu teacher and Gulf War veteran who runs a struggling academy on Los Angeles' Westside with his Brazilian wife, Sondra (Alice Braga).

The answer to his financial woes would appear to present itself following a chance encounter with an aging action movie star (introspectively played by Tim Allen), but Terry soon discovers that the outside world doesn't adhere to the same, moral samurai's code.

Unable to extricate himself from an even bigger mess, he's left with no choice but to enter the professional ring despite his philosophical issues with the competitive arena.

Mamet, himself a blue belt in jiu-jitsu (the red belt represents the discipline's most sacred honor), obviously has a passion for the subject matter, but make no mistake, he has no intention of making a conventional fight film.

So even though his regular ensemble, including Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon, has been augmented with a number of professional practitioners to up the production's street cred, Mamet finds plenty of room for his usual preoccupations, like personal integrity and the art of the con.

But where some of his previous genre experiments haven't lent themselves as readily to that Mamet stamp, the martial arts milieu, with all its ceremonial trappings, stands up reasonably well to the inevitable theatricality.

Also very capably holding its own is that blended cast, also featuring Emily Mortimer as a troubled attorney, David Paymer as a loan shark and Rodrigo Santoro as a fight-promoting club owner. And behind-the-camera frequent Mamet collaborator Robert Elswit (this year's cinematography Oscar winner for "There Will Be Blood") captures all the backstage machinations with gritty authenticity.

REDBELT
Sony Pictures Classics
Credits:
Director-writer: David Mamet
Producer: Chrisann Verges
Director of photography: Robert Elswit
Production designer: David Wasco
Music: Stephen Endelman
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editor: Barbara Tulliver
Cast:
Mike Terry: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Laura Black: Emily Mortimer
Sondra Terry: Alice Braga
Chet Frank: Tim Allen
Jerry Weiss: Joe Mantegna
Bruno Silva: Rodrigo Santoro
Marty Brown: Ricky Jay
Joe Collins: Max Martini
Richie: David Paymer
Zena Frank: Rebecca Pidgeon
Running time -- 99 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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