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A movie directed by David Mamet

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More a Character Study of a Martial Arts Practitioner than an Action Film...

  • Jan 19, 2009

Mixed Martial Arts have been in the spotlight ever since the emergence of UFC and some Hollywood films such as the Karate Kid clone "Never Back Down" (which I have also reviewed) have attempted to capitalize on its popularity. Writer/director David Mamet's "REDBELT" may well be the best U.S. filmmakers have come up with in regards to the world of Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts. The film is about honor and integrity, it cleverly blends the Japanese "code of the Samurai" into the dark side of the world of corruption in competitive sports. The film offers something to think about and for martial artists, it can get under your skin.


                       Emily Moriter as Laura Black and Chewitel Ejiofor as Mike Terry in "Redbelt."

                      Jose Pablo Cantillo as Snowflake, Chewitel Ejiofor as Mike Terry and Max Martini as Joe Collins in "Redbelt."

Mike Terry (Cheitel Ejiofor) is a well-respected but struggling teacher of Jiu-Jitsu. Terry has his own code of honor and would rather be poor than to compromise his integrity, much to the dismay of his wife Sondra (Alice Braga). His life intertwines with a student/policeman, a fragile young attorney (Emily Mortimer) and a hotshot actor named Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Frank becomes a witness to Terry's fighting skills when he assists him resolve a barroom brawl, and offers him and his wife a business arrangement. However, things go from bad to worst, his ideas are stolen and certain things may well force Terry to compete for money--something he does not believe in.

Rather than focusing on dynamic, jaw-dropping action sequences, "Redbelt" is more a riveting character study of one man. The film may be simple in terms of plot and some key elements may be a little unoriginal, but the storytelling is structured well and the script does provide the necessary emotions to add to its effectiveness. The old adage; "Good Guys finish last…" may come to mind, but what that phrase doesn't complete is that "..but good guys also guarantees their soul.." and I believe in that. The film is nicely paced and the proceedings does exactly what it is trying to say. While Terry is admired by students and other folks, his strong integrity may just hamper his success when it comes to the real world of money and material needs. Mike Terry is a man torn between his principles and his obligations. I truly love his principle of "competition is not a fight, I teach my students to prevail but not necessarily to fight". I also admired Mamet's definition of what exactly a "black belt" represents philosophically and that a belt is just something to hold up your pants. 

                    Chewitel Ejiofor as Mike Terry and Alicia Braga as Sondra Terry in "Redbelt."

                   Alicia Braga as Sondra Terry, Rebecca Pidgeon as Zena Frank and Tim Allen as Chet Frank in "Redbelt."

The film is a real densely executed character study and the spirit of martial arts, and of course, textbook manipulations would occur that would lead to its gripping encounter. The film does offer some of the most realistic fight sequences I've seen on camera. The moves are on display as Terry fights for his goal, although Asian martial arts films will provide a more entertaining experience. I've read that actor Cheitel Ejiofor trained in London, under Carlos Gracie in his academy, and the man definitely owned his role. This was a very good advantage as it did help the actor be more convincing in his role, since he did train in one of the best schools of Jiu-Jitsu. He knows the moves and it showed that he does, I bet the stunt coordinators appreciated this fact as it would be easier to choreograph the art's very complex moves.

REDBELT also delves into the spirit of Jiu-Jitsu as well as the way of the samurai, and it also explores the corruption of money-driven competition; "everything that involves money is fixed" (we all know this but we just tend to deny it). The film shows money-driven competition's ugly face, and it is a very bleak view that is similar to the world of boxing. Quite a real gutsy move in the part of David Mamet. Surprisingly, Tim Allen does a great job as Chet Frank, at first impression, I thought he was miscast but he fit his role. Emily Mortimer may seemed a little "doopie" in the beginning but she also contributes to the film's emotional impact. The film does have a solid cast that reflects its solid direction. 

                        Cyril Takayama in "Redbelt."

                        Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry and John Machado as Augusto Silva in "Redbelt."

                        Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry in "Redbelt."

Mamet definitely knew what he wanted to do with the film, the man wants to communicate the integrity and honor of a good man in a very cynical and materialistic world and he does so; the film is structured well and the writing is sharp. The circumstances that led to Mike being pushed to a corner was convincing enough and the links between the characters were credible. The spirit of Jiu-Jitsu is treated as if it is "hallowed ground" when it is within the confines of Terry's school; men and women can find themselves inside while leaving the real world behind.

The film's climax may leave some audiences asking for more and some may even say it seems a bit too cheesy, but if you were paying attention to its entirety, it does make a fitting ending. The climactic fight that occurs outside the ring does effectively represent just what Mike Terry stands for. "RedBelt" may not have that many sequences of fisticuffs and those who are looking for an abundance of choreographed martial arts are better off looking elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a character-driven, thinking man's martial arts drama, then this film will not disappoint.

REDBELT effectively portrays the beliefs and the philosophy of martial arts. As someone often told me; "the measure of a man is not to be judged with the size of his wallet, but what he holds in his heart; if he works hard enough and never compromises his beliefs and integrity, then he is beautiful…"

Highly Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]

Alicia Braga in "Redbelt." Alice Braga as Sondra Terry in "Redbelt."

                                  Poster art for "Redbelt."

scene Dvd cover

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July 17, 2010
Yeah man I loved this flick, I should bring mine over here. The UFC started in 1993 and since then I have been waiting for a movie like this to showcase the sport I love in a good film. Jiu-Jitsu all day baby, that is what we do around here, and you know I love my Muay Thai sessions as well good sir.
July 17, 2010
yeh, man. Join me under this topic--this is a great movie that needs more reviews here in our community...
September 26, 2009
But another epic find from the Woo-man. Interesting report, sounds like a film worth looking into. Keep up the great work!!
May 18, 2009
You nailed it! I liked it all except the ending let me down as it seemed an easy way out of an an otherwise complex, engrossing story. The main actor was incredible, and who thought Tim Allen had acting skills?
May 19, 2009
This was surprisingly good. I really enjoyed it. Ejiofor is amazngly sympathetic in his portrayal and felt very human. Hey, you're right, even Allen had his moment to shine. :)
May 14, 2009
I hadn't heard of this film until now; it looks mighty enticing. I'm going to hunt it up though it's unlikely I can persuade my wife to take it in with me. She hates martial arts stuff (or at least has a marked aversion to it).
May 18, 2009
I think your wife may like this one, it is more a charcter-driven melodrama than a martial arts film. Mamet did a great job directing this film.
May 25, 2009
I got to see the film but wasn't as bowled over as you seem to have been. In fact I thought the film was somewhat underacted and the story a little contrived. It also lacked the mythic resonance of the first Karate Kid. I was rather hoping it would make up for that in depth and nuance but I don't think it did. The fighting at least had more realism than one can usually expect in martial arts flicks though. -- SWM
May 25, 2009
True, you did nicely point out some of its weaknesses, which is why I only gave it a 'recommended' rating. But I still stand by my review, I still think it was underrated. thanks.
January 21, 2009
T-man, I guess the MMA stars are jealous of the exposure wrestlers get. I cannot believe you haven't seen this film yet. I guess the trailer sealed it for you LOL! Rache, I definitely agree with your comment. "Competition isn't a fight...anything that involves a lot of money may well be fixed." I love that tagline as well as: "I don't teach them to fight--I teach them to prevail." nice.
January 21, 2009
Karen, yep, I did review this film in ammie--and this review had circulated in other martial arts sites without my even knowing--it's cool since the site does state that I wrote the review. Mamet disease? LOL! You have a point there...
January 20, 2009
A knockout review, Woop. I remember you doing this film on ammie, but I think you added it to the the original didn't you? I completely forgot that David Mamet was the force behind this film. Does it suffer from Mamet Disease? That's where all the characters talk in the same manner and tend to repeat each other over and over. Its the one thing about Mamet's films that can really get on my nerves. See HOUSE OF GAMES for a prime example.Gotta got put this on my Netflix list. I love Netflix, just saves me so much money deciding what I want to buy!
More Redbelt reviews
review by . August 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
      REDBELT      I have been a fan of Martial Arts and a practitioner since I was born seeing that some of my uncles and such were black belts in Karate or Jiu-Jitsu [love it]. And of course I have been a fan of MMA since 1993 I believe it was when the Gracie's debuted the UFC. Now it seems that the art form and now worldwide popular sport that I have loved since I was born is reaching that mainstream status. I guess that is both a bad and a good thing …
review by . July 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
      REDBELT      I have been a fan of Martial Arts and a practitioner since I was born seeing that some of my uncles and such were black belts in Karate or Jiu-Jitsu [love it]. And of course I have been a fan of MMA since 1993 I believe it was when the Gracie's debuted the UFC. Now it seems that the art form and now worldwide popular sport that I have loved since I was born is reaching that mainstream status. I guess that is both a bad and a good thing …
review by . August 31, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
David Mamet pulls off another distinctive and compelling take on traditional genres with this compelling story of a modern day samurai.     Mike Terry runs a school/dojo for fighters, jiu-jitsu style. A key doctrine of his school is that there is no situation that cannot be mastered, that obstacles to escape are all in the mind. He aims at purity in his methods -- fighting is not about gaining rewards or fame. Of course, this means he is barely making ends meet with his business …
review by . September 19, 2008
Redbelt was so so close to being one of the few films that earn the rarity of being called classic. The film is about Mike Terry who is a jiu jitsu self defense teacher. He is a very skilled teacher and owns his own dojo but the money just isn't rolling in. More problems follow as a nervous woman comes stumbling into his studio. The woman is so scared and nervous that she grabs a gun that belonged to Mike's student, and shoots the dojo window out. The student was a cop and was nice enough …
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Please "Like" Film and Movies and Keep the Economy strong....LOL!!      My Interests: Movies, Anime, History, Martial Arts, Comics, Entertainment,Cooking, Things I don't … more
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About this movie


In the west-side of Los Angeles fight world, a world inhabited by bouncers, cagefighters, cops and special forces types, Mike Terry is a Jiu-Jitsu teacher who has avoided the prize fighting circuit, choosing instead to pursue an honorable life by operating a self-defense studio with a samurai’s code. Terry and his wife Sondra struggle to keep the business running to make ends meet. An accident on a dark, rainy night at the Academy between an off duty officer and a distraught lawyer puts in motion a series of events that will change Terry’s life dramatically introducing him to a world of promoters and movie star Chet Frank. Faced with this, in order to pay off his debts and regain his honor, Terry must step into the ring for the first time in his life.

Like David Mamet's previous films,Redbelt's narrative slowly exposes the well-guarded secrets of systems shrouded in mystique and conspiracy, this time at martial-arts academies and on Hollywood film and television sets. Reminiscent ofRocky,Redbeltis an unapologetically moralistic tale of an impoverished, inner city Jiu Jitsu instructor whose idealism is an affront to those who seek to sink him. Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), unknowingly affiliated with the wealthy Brazilian family who rigs televised MMA matches, naively rescues actor Chet Frank (Tim Allen) from being mutilated in a bar brawl, but isn't able to link Frank's sketchy relations until Terry's life is endangered. Fated to ...
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