Thursday, September 4, 2008

David Mamet's REDBELT

David Mamet may no longer be the same guy who gave us Glengarry Glen Ross, but he certainly does swing for the fences in his film work. Now if only he could hit the ball once in a while...

Redbelt is possibly the best example of the typically ambitious Mamet misfire in his extremely varied filmography.

The story is actually as simple as this line I will now type: Jiu Jitsu instructor Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is forced by financial hardships and the scheming of show-biz types to compete on pay-per-view television despite his own rigid principles. That's it. That is essentially the story that we are told in ninety minutes. Roll fucking credits.

Somehow, David Mamet has managed to take something that simple and make it the most complicated (and stupidly convoluted) film noir in years. And yeah, it's a film noir. It's not a good noir flick, but somehow it counts. It has a big, crazy, fucking twisted con artist plot for the absolutely lowest stakes of all time:

Will Mike fight despite his rigid principles? Oh Heavens! Please fight, Mike! Fight for the good of...why do I give a fuck now?

But the real bitch is that you don't really get a chance to realize any of this until it's all over. Only when they fade to black do you really get to sit there and say think about how little sense the "twists" made and how if the twists do make sense, why should you care? Ultimately, the real con job is the one that Mamet pulls on his audience. He has made a big complicated noir-ish mess out of a sports movie trifle.

Sounds pretty stupid, right?

Well, it is.

But it's also a pretty neat trick. By being so weird and varied and generally fucked, you forgive enough things to make it through to the lackluster end.

Along the way, I forgave a lot of things in this movie. I forgave some pretty terrible performances (Ricky Jay being the worst of the bunch, sadly) because of Ejiofor's solid work at the center of the movie. I forgave the fight scenes being poorly shot because it soon became clear that this was more of a twisty plot movie than a fight movie (until the last reel where it turns out that yes, this is apparently a fight movie and yes, the remaining fights will also look like shit). I forgave the plot holes and scenes that made no sense (the Emily Mortimer accidentally firing the gun sequence is maddeningly retarded) were so glaring and ridiculous that I thought they would make sense later in the film (they didn't). I forgave forced dialogue because I expected some flashes of Glengarry Glen Ross to appear (never happened).

But what it all comes down to is forgiving this movie for it's main flaw: the fact that it is a dopey film noir about a principled jiu jitsu instructor who is schemed into fighting on pay-per-view. You must forgive the film for this flaw because it is also what makes it almost worth reccomending. I didn't know much about the film before I netflixed it, but if I'd read a review where the gist of it was, An ill-conceived mix of laughably low-stakes film noir and poorly shot sports drama, I'd have snatched it up for sure. And I'm not one of those people who likes things ironically, no sir, I'll leave that to certain Gen-Xers (you know who you are). The thing is, it just sounds so ridiculous that I'd have to know, have to experience such a miscalculation for myself.

And if you are at all intrigued I honestly can't completely advise against Redbelt. It is pretty entertaining and super short at just a bit over an hour and a half. There are things that will make you groan, performances that suck and afterward you are guaranteed to feel completely bewildered as to why such a bizarre, stupid film was ever made...but there is no denying it was made by someone who has big ideas and a desire to do something original and exciting.

There's also no way of getting around the fact that in the end, Redbelt doesn't really work.

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