out of Five
Running time: 99
This Mametian thriller is worth watching for a terrific performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it's hard to engage with the story and it loses its way in the final act.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by David Mamet, Redbelt stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Terry, a Jiu-Jitsu instructor who has always steered clear of the prize-fighting circuit, believing that "Competition weakens the fighter". Instead, he runs a self-defence studio with his wife Sondra (Alice Braga), where he teaches his students to control their emotions and encourages them to apply the same skills to their everyday lives.
However, an accident involving an off-duty cop (Max Martini) and a jumpy lawyer (Emily Mortimer) sparks off a series of events that lands an already financially-strapped Terry in a lot of debt. So when he's approached by a movie star (Tim Allen) and a sleazy producer (Joe Mantegna) with an offer to fight professionally, he realises that his only way out is to step into the ring.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is rapidly becoming one of Britain's best actors and if we're not careful, Hollywood is going to steal him from us. He gives a typically brilliant performance here, anchoring the film and keeping a cool head, even when there's chaos all around him.
There's also strong support from Braga, Mortimer and the usual cast of Mamet regulars (Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay as a tricksy fight promoter), while Tim Allen plays it darker than usual as troubled movie star Chet Frank.
Unfortunately, having set everything in motion for a fight-based finale, it turns out that Mamet's not actually interested in that element of the story at all. As a result, the climax is both confusing and disappointing – there's something going on all right but the script gives you no clue as to what it might be and you're left wondering if it's not just Mamet indulging in Mametian macho bullshit.
Redbelt is worth seeing for Ejiofor's performance, but the script fails to engage and the end result is disappointing.