Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Mamet|
|Produced by||Chrisann Verges|
|Written by||David Mamet|
|Editing by||Barbara Tulliver|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics|
|Release date(s)||May 9, 2008|
|Running time||100 min.|
|Country|| United States
|Budget||US$ 10 Million|
The movie opens in a Jiu-Jitsu studio where Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is teaching an advanced class. Mike employs a unique training method. Before a sparring match, each fighter draws one of three marbles, two black and one white. Whoever draws a black marble has to fight with a handicap as determined by the spin of a wheel much like a board game. Joe (Max Martini), a police officer training for a black belt, draws a black marble and must compete with his hands tied in front of him while his opponent drew the white marble and is unencumbered. Joe puts up an impressive fight but ultimately loses when he is unable to break a choke hold. Mike consoles him by showing Joe that despite the handicap, he could've easily broken the choke hold if he was more focused.
Meanwhile, Laura (Emily Mortimer) is driving through a heavy downpour desperately trying to locate a pharmacy before it closes to fill a prescription. Frustrated and distracted while talking on her phone, she sideswipes a parked truck. Seeking the truck's owner, Laura wanders into the Jiu-Jitsu academy while Mike is demonstrating how Joe's police issued shoulder holster is a liability in a fight. Joe sees that Laura is soaked and distressed so he chivalrously tries to take her coat. Startled, she grabs Joe's stray gun which he set down only briefly during Mike's private demonstration. The gun fires and shatters the studio's front window. Laura picks up the ejected shell casing while Joe and Mike are shocked by how easily and dramatically she was frightened.
Mike and Joe agree to hide that the shooting ever happened. Technically, the police could charge Laura with attempted murder which wouldn't be fair to a woman who is clearly just disturbed and meant no harm. But claiming the window broke because of strong wind makes it an act of God and not covered by Mike's insurance. This sparks an argument between Mike and his wife over finances. Apparently the academy is bankrupt. The only reason it hasn't closed is because Mike's wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), is supplementing the studio through profits from her fashion business which puts a strain on her income. Sondra advises Mike to ask for a loan from Sondra's brother, Ricardo (John Machado), a mixed martial arts champion.
Mike goes to visit Ricardo at his club which is co-owned by Sondra's other brother, Bruno (Rodrigo Santoro). Mike notices that the club has no bouncer. Joe was supposed to be bouncing to earn extra cash for his family's unnamed medical bills. Ricardo is unavailable so Mike meets with Bruno instead. While waiting to see Bruno, Mike is entertained by a cocky magician. The man displays some incredible sleight of hand by turning a die from black to white with uncanny ease. Mike also learns from the bartender that Joe quit bouncing because Bruno never paid him.
In the club's office, Bruno and fight promoter Marty Brown (Ricky Jay) are discussing how to promote a championship mixed martial arts fight between Ricardo and a Japanese legend, Morisaki (Enson Inoue). Marty makes some references to fixing the fight and Bruno debates with him about whether or not Ricardo will go for it.
Mike finally meets with Bruno and questions him about why he didn't pay Joe. Bruno gives a mysteriously vague explanation claiming that he planned on paying Joe eventually but Joe was impatient. Bruno also tries to encourage Mike to fight on the undercard in the aforementioned upcoming fight which could potentially pay out $50,000. But Mike follows a strict, samurai-like code. He believes competition weakens the fighter because a competition is not a fight, especially when it's only for money. Their conversation is interrupted when Bruno notices on the security monitors that Chet Frank (Tim Allen), an aging Hollywood action star, just entered the club without a bodyguard.
Chet offers to buy a woman at the bar a drink, but the woman's boyfriend gets offended and picks a fight with Chet. When the boyfriend attempts to attack Chet with a broken bottle, Mike intervenes to stop the fight. Two more guys attack Mike, but Mike quickly subdues them.
The following day, a messenger shows up at Mike's door delivering an expensive watch from Chet Frank and an invitation to dinner. Chet is grateful for Mike's intervention in the bar fight. Mike gives the watch to Joe and advises him to pawn it. Mike feels responsible for hooking Joe up with an employer that stiffed him.
Mike goes to the academy the following morning and finds that Laura is paying to fix the window. She apologizes for her odd behavior the previous evening and accepts an enrollment form for Mike's class.
That evening during dinner, Chet's wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) admires Sondra's fashion style and arranges an informal business deal to buy a large supply of dresses from Sondra's company. After hearing some of the tenets of Mike's teaching philosophy, Chet invites Mike to the set of his recent film project the next morning. Before parting ways, Sondra encourages Mike to tell Chet's business associate, Jerry Weiss (Joe Mantegna), about the marble drawing training method. Jerry thinks it's an interesting concept and comments on how it could be a clever gimmick to use in competitive fighting to draw a crowd.
The next morning, Mike visits the movie set. Chet is running late so Mike wanders the set and discovers a colleague/acquaintance is doing stunt choreography for the movie's hand to hand combat. Having served in Desert Storm, Mike was able to answer some of Chet's technical questions about the military. Impressed with Mike's knowledge, Chet asks Mike to be a co-producer of the film. Jerry invites Mike to dinner that evening to discuss the details. Mike returns home to share the good news with Sondra and begins faxing details of his training methods to Jerry so they can be used in the movie.
Mike meets with Laura later that afternoon for a private lesson. Laura reveals that she was raped while the assailant held a knife to her throat thus explaining why she's easily startled. Skeptical of Mike being able to help her, she begins to exit the studio. Mike aggressively grabs her from behind holding a rubber training knife to her throat. After showing her how she could've escaped from such a predicament, Laura cathartically sobs.
Later while preparing for the beginner class, Joe shows up to the studio and informs Mike that he was temporarily suspended from duty after trying to pawn a stolen watch. Mike is shocked to learn it was stolen and assures Joe that he will straighten things out.
When meeting Jerry for dinner, Mike insists on sorting out the issue of the stolen watch before discussing other business. Jerry is shocked and embarrassed to learn the watch was stolen and excuses himself to go make a phone call to handle the matter. Jerry never returns and Mike leaves the restaurant puzzled. When Mike gets home, Sondra is also confused. The phone numbers that Chet's wife gave her have been disconnected. Sondra is panicky because she already ordered $30,000 worth of fabric based on their oral business arrangement. Sondra borrowed the money for the fabric from a loan shark (David Paymer).
Mike meets with the loan shark to plead for more time to pay back the money. During their conversation, Mike notices Marty Brown and Bruno on television promoting the mixed martial arts match of Ricardo versus Morisaki. As a promotional gimmick, they are planning to use Mike's marble drawing technique for the undercard fights.
Mike then hires Laura to see if they can sue the fight promoter for stealing Mike's idea. The problem is they can't prove how Marty Brown could've stolen the idea if Mike never told it to him. That question is answered when Jerry Weiss enters Marty's office and refers to Marty as his new partner. This connected Mike's idea to Jerry then to Marty thus allowing Laura to prove theft and conspiracy to defraud. But Marty's lawyer threatens that if they don't drop the lawsuit then he will hand over proof to the police, in the form of an empty shell casing with Laura's fingerprints, that she attempted to kill an off duty cop. He can also prove that Mike was a witness who covered up the attempted murder by bribing the cop with a stolen wrist watch.
Upon hearing about this situation, Joe feels entirely responsible and kills himself. Mike visits Joe's wife to console her but finds she is inconsolable. She claims Joe was trying to preserve the honor of the academy and Mike's principles. But mostly she's angry because she's stuck with a stack of bills that she can't pay. Mike feels obligated to help. Desperately in need of money, Mike decides to abandon his principles and compete as an undercard fighter in the upcoming competition.
When Mike arrives at the arena before the fight, he learns that the promoters have made the marble drawing look like an elaborate, ancient ritual conducted by an elderly man wearing a ceremonial mask and escorted by tribal drummers. Mike also learns that his mentor, known as The Professor, is present at the fight. As Mike walks through the halls of the arena, he peers through a partially opened dressing room door and sees that the elderly Asian man who draws the colored stones is actually the magician from Bruno's club in disguise. The magician is vainly displaying his sleight of hand skills in the dressing room mirror and secretly switching colored marbles. Mike realizes that the fight is fixed. Unbeknownst to the competitors, the magician assigns the handicap as predetermined by the fight promoters. Disgusted by this revelation, Mike confronts the promoters/conspirators: Marty, Jerry and Bruno. They confirm the accusation and also reveal that Ricardo is intentionally losing the fight to Morisaki so they can make money on the rematch.
When Mike accuses them of being responsible for Joe's suicide, Jerry laments that it was unfortunate but blames Mike for being stupid enough to give a gift from someone as important as Chet Frank. Jerry also tells Mike that Sondra is the one who told them about Laura shooting the window. Bruno justifies her betrayal by explaining that his sister is too smart to stay with someone who can't provide for her.
As Mike is exiting the arena, he meets with Laura. Their conversation is not audible, but it ends with Laura giving Mike a loud, echoing slap to the face. Mike then re-enters the arena determined to expose that the fights are fixed. One by one, security guards try to stop Mike but they are unsuccessful. Finally, Ricardo engages Mike. As they begin fighting in the arena's corridors, the audience and camera crews take notice. Eventually, Ricardo puts Mike in a difficult choke hold. As he's losing consciousness, Mike is inspired by the sight of The Professor and reverses the hold. Mike wins the fight. He is approached by Morisaki who awards Mike with his ivory-studded belt, previously referred to as a Japanese national treasure. Mike is then approached by The Professor himself who awards Mike with the coveted Redbelt, signifying Mike as his one worthy pupil.
Mamet has described Redbelt as a samurai film in the tradition of Kurosawa.. He has employed the resources of several members of the MMA community in the making of the film. Randy Couture and Enson Inoue have acting roles, as does Jean Jacques Machado's brother John Machado, who also planned some of the fight choreography.
Mamet has earned the rank of purple belt under the tutelage of Renato Magno, who served as the film's jiu-jitsu consultant.
The film was produced by Chrisann Verges. David Wasco served as production designer. Debra McGuire designed the costumes and Stephen Endelman provided the music. Cinematography was done by Robert Elswit and the film was edited by Barbara Tulliver. John Machado and Rico Chiapparelli were the fight choreographers. Chiwetel Ejiofor's stunt double was Aaron Toney and Tim Allen's stunt double was Todd Warren. In an interview with Iain Blair of Reuters Life!, Mamet said he was interested in casting Chiwetel Ejiofor for his acting versatility after seeing his performances in Dirty Pretty Things and Kinky Boots, saying "It's impossible for one guy to be able to play both those parts." David Mamet said that Ejiofor's preparation for the film included 12-hour days of physical training, although Ejiofor said that wasn't exactly the norm. Production began around July 2007, with many of the action sequences being filmed at the Pyramid in Long Beach.
Sony Pictures Classics co-founder and co-president Tom Bernard said there were two marketing campaigns for the film, "one directed at MMA guys and another at the more upscale theaters." Commercials and giveaway contests were run on Spike TV, and Mamet was invited to screen the film for members of New York's Lincoln Center.
The film received generally favorable reviews from critics. As of February 14, 2009, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 69% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 132 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 69/100, based on 32 reviews.
Many critics praised Chiwetel Ejiofor for his performance in the film. Stephen King of Entertainment Weekly wrote that Eljiofor "brings gravity and grace to Terry's moral dilemma."
Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano described the film as "tricky and engrossing" and "a contemporary noir with a samurai movie interior." Chocano wrote, "Ejiofor brings a calm magnetism and a beatific serenity to his roles that have the effect of knocking you flat -- there's something about this guy that's messianic." Chocano said Tim Allen's performance was restrained. Chocano wrote "the noir puzzle element is central to the story" and "suffice it to say things get complicated," saying "much of the pleasure is in the surprises."
Several critics wrote that the story is reminiscent of films from earlier decades. Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is "entertaining in a pulpy kind of way, like the fight films of the 1930s and '40s, and more accessible than most of Mamet's movies." Ty Burr of The Boston Globe wrote "What Redbelt reminded me of more than anything else was a modern version of a classic film noir, particularly 1950's brilliantly seedy Night and the City, with its pro-wrestling subplot." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called it "a satisfying, unexpectedly involving B-movie that owes as much to old Hollywood as to Greek tragedy."
The ending of the film was criticized by several critics. Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club said "The film unravels a bit in the last few moments, amid unanswered story questions and a simplistic climax, but until that moment, Redbelt is Mamet's richest film of the decade." Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer said "One of the problems with the way Mamet resolves Mike's predicament is that it's ridiculously implausible - even in the context of a far-fetched fight story." Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com said the final scene "might seem far-fetched on a pay-per-view MMA broadcast." Film critic James Berardinelli said "The plot is borderline ridiculous and certainly doesn't stand up to close (or even not-so-close) scrutiny, but there's a level of entertainment to be had watching it unfold in all its strangeness," but also said "taken at face value, there's a degree of satisfaction in the way Redbelt concludes."
Regarding the fight scenes in the film, Rea wrote "Mamet is a master of talk, not action" and said "Redbelt's ultimate Ultimate Fight moment feels sorely lacking." O'Hehir said "the jiu-jitsu scenes are so incoherently shot and edited you can't tell if the fight choreography is any good or not." Berardinelli wrote "Anyone attending with the expectation that this is going to satisfy a primal desire for wall-to-wall combat will be sadly disappointed.
In The Weekly Standard, Sonny Bunch wrote that the film's "heart is not in the twists and turns [...] but a careful character study of a man who lives a life based on honor, and the corrupting influence of money." Bunch said it "takes lack of exposition to a new extreme [...] How does Mamet tell us about Terry's character? Very subtly. Throughout the film we get hints about Terry's life [...] Mamet challenges us to figure out for ourselves what's going on in Terry's head."
The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club named it the 4th best film of 2008, and Mike Russell of the Portland Oregonian named it the 9th best film of 2008.
The film opened in limited release in the United States on May 2, 2008 and grossed $63,361 in 6 theaters, averaging $10,560 per theater. On May 9, 2008, the film opened in wide release in the United States and Canada, and grossed $1,012,435 in 1,379 theaters, ranking #11 at the box office and averaging $734 per theater. As of September 9, 2008, it has grossed $2,451,459 in the United States and Canada.