Thursday, May 8, 2008

One of Them's Going to Win

For several days now I’ve tried to write a piece on David Mamet's REDBELT but have gotten sidetracked by various matters in addition to being a little stuck on what to say. That’s not to say that I didn’t think much of the movie because I actually did like it very much. But it’s Mamet. What am I supposed to say about it, anyway? You know what you’re getting, you know what you’re going to think going in. What if I said that it was the best, purest Mametian piece of filmmaking that he’s ever done? I mean, maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. What, am I supposed to explain Mamet’s dialogue here? I won’t say with any certainty that there’s a great movie within REDBELT because some of his films linger longer than others but here, right now, it works pretty damn well for me. It’s a Mamet film, but it’s also a fight movie. It’s a fight movie, but it’s a Mamet film. If you’re going in looking for what you loved about GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS, SPEED-THE-PLOW, HOUSE OF GAMES, HOMICIDE, THE SPANISH PRISONER, SPARTAN, along with his screenplay for the all-holy THE UNTOUCHABLES, then there’s a good chance you’ll get it. Plus there’s lots of fighting. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Chiwtel Ejiofor, quite amazing in the best role he’s had to date, plays Mike Terry, a mixed-martial arts instructor who is against the very nature of fighting to compete who has a number of things fall into his life all at once, not least of which is an action movie star played by Tim Allen who might just be the meal ticket for everything he needs to fall into place. Also figuring into all this are interesting characters played by Alice Braga, Emily Mortimer, David Paymer, Max Martini, Rodrigo Santoro and some more familiar Mamet staples such as Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon.

Mike meets Chet and is almost instantly drawn into the world of the movie star along with the war movie he is making, being offered the world, something he badly needs. Does David Mamet have enough faith in Hollywood that this is what will really happen? How should we draw parallels between what Mike Terry does in his worldview and what Mamet does? How should we consider the similarities between fighting and writing? How much should we consider that? Is he correct when he says, “There is no situation you cannot escape.” There are few things in movies as riveting as someone who is passionate about what they do. I don’t want to learn about Jiu-Jitsu now but while viewing REDBELT, few things in the world seemed as important.

The film is well-shot in Scope and even though I wish some of the fight scenes were shot a little better (instead we seem to get lots of close-ups, that sort of thing ) just a little, I’m not making a thing out of it, by the time we got to the climax I felt myself getting roused up more than I’d expected. The battle between art movie and B-movie in REDBELT may be totally wonky, but it got my pulse racing and in the end proved extremely satisfying. The choices the character of Mike Terry has to make struck a chord inside of me. Is he an individual? Is he his own man? Is this movie a total shell game or is there something else there? Make of it what you will. Maybe it’s about fighting and nothing else. Maybe it’s about fighting and everything else. If that’s not the sort of thing you should take from a movie, than what is?

Sometimes you have to face certain things, sometimes you have to face everything alone. I understand it. It’s not easy, but I understand it. In REDBELT nothing is easy. Especially not what you think is going to be easy.

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