Redbelt is a strange movie. “Written and directed by David Mamet” is the only reason I would watch a film about martial arts, and may also be the only reason I am actually thinking a bit about the film. The “simple” idea is that the martial arts instructor -- Mike Terry, beautifully played by the English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor -- is too pure to fight in competitions. There’s an ongoing schtick about how competiton is weakening, how he doesn’t teach people to fight, he teaches them to prevail, a lot of noble warrior stuff. And slowly, you realize that he is going to fight in a big competition. Everything goes wrong, putting Terry deep in trouble and in debt, and that’s when I started thinking. Mamet is unclear about how much of the stuff going wrong is deliberate and engineered by the fight promoters, and how much is just stuff going wrong, bad timing if you will. That ambiguity, far from being “holes in the plot” is, I think, what makes an otherwise dull fight film into something more interesting. The big fight at the end, which takes place out of the ring and thus with no rules, is the apotheosis of Terry’s schtick, and he does indeed prevail with a very slick parcours-style move. The singular redbelt of the title is his, and the ambiguities are ours to wrestle with.


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