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2008-11-04 10:01
What it's about:

Martial arts instructor Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a strictly principled man who refuses to fight in commercial tournaments despite his skill and the promise of easy money. As talented as he is, Mike is not a businessman, and his small martial arts school is barely making ends meet. When he inadvertently defends a celebrity in a bar fight, he begins a chain of tragic events that lead him to the brink of losing everything, unless he agrees to fight in a rigged tournament.

What we thought of it:

Redbelt is a bit of a dark horse – a film about an underdog martial artist competing in a tournament that resembles a to-the-point stage drama. The story actually runs much like a classic kung fu movie, although the focus is on the characters and their reactions to the events that unfold around them, while keeping both feet rooted in the trials of the real world.

The acting is excellent all round, with Chiwetel Ejiofor making Mike Terry as complex a character as the script allowed. He embodies the honour of his discipline even though it is almost impossible in a sport that attracts conmen and scum by the truck load. His wife Sondra (Alice Braga) is like the working class Lady Macbeth, motivated by ambition once she gets a whiff of success, while the other woman in his life, neurotic lawyer Laura Black (a wonderfully vulnerable Emily Mortimer) leads him even further astray with her good intentions.

The story is perhaps too simple for this type of character-driven film, even though there are some fantastic little details that pop up. Tim Allen makes a fantastic self-centred bastard who tries to befriend Mike, and the few fight scenes there are work nicely, but these are few and far between. Many of the other scenes come across so laboured that writer and director David Mamet might as well flash audience response cards across the screen.

When the climax finally arrives, it does so with a whimper rather than a bang, having been well signposted in advance. I have no problem with simple stories, but Redbeltoften ventures into tedium while we wait for the next bit of bad luck to befall Mike.

Overall, Redbelt isn't a terrible movie, but it is sorely lacking in pace and excitement. Even moments that should give you a lump in your throat end up just being slightly glum. A great deal of care has obviously gone into the dialogue and scene construction, which is unsurprising considering Mamet's background in theatre, but it amounts to very little of interest.

- Ivan Sadler

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A pacifist martial arts instructor is forced by circumstance to fight for money, when his wife borrows money from a loan shark.

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