David Mamet likes words. His films, like the recently reviewed Glengary Glen Ross, are either based on his plays or feel like they are adaptations. Redbelt has that Mamet “theatrical” feel to it. I happen to like that as it creates all this measured, rhythmic dialogue that feels thought out and intelligent. What Redbelt has that is unique to a Mamet film is action scenes and lots of martial arts fighting. That’s something different.
Redbelt has the very good English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as the ultra-principled martial arts instructor Mike Terry, who is struggling to eek out an existence because of those principles. There’s big money to be made in the world of mixed-martial arts but Terry believes that money or competition weakens your skill as a fighter. He looks at martial arts as a philosophical way of life and expects those around him, students, wife, everyone else, to think the same way.
Terry unexpectedly comes in contact with a famous Hollywood action star (Tim Allen, yes, Tim Allen in a Mamet film) and it’s either the biggest break of his life or the biggest challenge to his lofty standards. Mamet throws in some standard topics like corruption (Mamet regulars Ricky Jay and Joe Montegna help in this regard), romantic complications (Emily Mortimer as damaged new student) and possible double crosses to make it feel more like something of his doing.
I liked Redbelt a lot. Mamet’s not for everyone as his dialogue and acting style, as I mentioned earlier, is very play-like and this can lend it the air of being stilted. I find his films remarkably compressed and unpredictable. Even though Redbelt has some fighting in it—I wouldn’t describe it as kinetic. It’s just Mamet directing fight scenes with his stationary camera the same way he might direct a scene with people talking (which is pretty much every scene in every film he’s done).
Redbelt is a non-action action film, if that makes sense. It’s smart, complicated and does have a suspenseful, sort-of action packed finale and another good film from David Mamet.