Life can be strange, both the real and the fantasy portrayed on the screen. Fact is often stranger than fiction yet how is it that fiction can seem so unlikely? Redbelt is one of those films that pushes believability to its limits as conniving individuals weave together a scheme which relies on intricate details playing out just so. Thankfully the film is in the steady hands of writer and director David Mamet and a solid cast.
Michael Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Jiu Jitsu black belt. He is a man of principle and runs his school strictly on those principles which means he barely makes any money. No matter, Terry is more concerned with maintaining his integrity. His wife, however, is not. She worries about how they’re going to live while Terry’s business can barely make rent and her own business (clothes) struggles to keep them out of the red.
After one of the roughest martial arts classes I’ve ever witnessed finishes with police officer Joe Collins (Max Martini) nearly passing out in a choke hold by another student, Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) enters in from the rain rattled. She’s smashed into Terry’s truck. She is all nerves which leads her to grab officer Collins’ gun and accidentally fire it when she mistakes the off duty cop’s motion towards her as threatening. And just like that the plot thickens.
One event leads to another in mostly believable ways to the point where Terry finds himself working with a famous action movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) on the set of the star’s next film. If it sounds a bit convoluted, it kind of is, but the pace is so quick it’s forgivable.
Behind the scenes, there are plans to get a compelling mixed martial arts competition going. The promoters aren’t thrilled with the prospects. I imagine it’s what today’s heavyweight boxing promoters feel like. The money men would love to get Terry in the ring. He’s known to be one of the best but refuses to fight in competitions because there is no honor in fighting competitively. Again, the principled man finds himself walking away from money.
A more unwieldy chain of events takes place that leads Terry into the ring. He’s fighting to win money not for himself or his wife but for the widow of officer Collins, who committed suicide at least partially due to the mess his sensei unknowingly got him into. The final twist just before the bout may push the plausibility factor. No matter, the setup for the final fight and the ending are worth it.
Chiwetel Ejiofor commands every moment on the screen. Mamet’s dialog is as crisp as always. In fact, the dialog often feels as though it’s human beings speaking and not uber smart beings that only appear to be human. This is a problem I’ve found some of Mamet’s other screenplays have suffered from. The story could stand one or two less hard to believe connected events that turn into one well orchestrated con. But when the pacing is so fast and the acting so strong the faults become slight.