Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Here’s another one that I’ve had to wait to write about, but now that it’s premiered and it’ll be out in theaters, I can finally get to it. In the meantime, here’s one reader’s reaction to that premiere screening, along with a very pointed observation about the venue of that premiere:
I saw the world premiere of Redbelt at the Tribeca Film Festival last night (Friday). Who wouldn't be fired up for this movie? David Mamet, king of American machismo, tackles the latest packaging of American aggression for the masses: MMA. Pair the usual players from Mamet Rep (Ricky Jay, Rebecca Pidgeon, Joe Mantegna) with newcomers Emily Mortimer, Tim Allen, Alice Braga and the star, Chiwetel Eljiofor. Eljiofor plays Mike Terry, a Brazilian ju-jujitsu master who avoids competition, since it's not pure. Of course, by the end of the film, he's found himself doing the one thing he swore he wouldn't...fight for money. In looking at this film, it might be best to look at what it is not: it is NOT, by any stretch, a film about MMA fighting, or MMA fighters. Yes, Randy Couture is in the film, but as a color commentator named Dylan Flynn. He acquits himself well enough in the role, but why hire Randy Couture to be in a fight movie, and not have him fight? Not that he necessarily needs to, but then why give him a fake name? He certainly could be a credible color commentator as himself. Maybe it's because they want MMA fans to see his name in the ads and come to the movie, (rightfully) expecting some major action? Ahhhh, that could be it. In his introduction to the film, Mamet said Redbelt was an homage to the American fight film, and an homage to the samurai film. Let's break that down. We'll give Mamet a little credit and assume he was talking about the wide range of American fight films, and not just Rocky. But you know what fight films have in them? Fighting. And in no small amount. On this count, Redbelt fails. There are three fights in this film: one that opens the movie, (and which does not directly involve our hero); the second; which establishes him as a badass of no small means, though it is over quickly; and the final fight, which while long, is shot and edited in such a way that you can't really tell what's going on, and the one "holy sh*t" move is filmed in such a clunky way that you are left muttering "obvious stuntman." (Even if it was Eljiofor who pulled the move, it was filmed so that you are convinced it wasn't him.) Also, when Eljiofor's character, Mike Terry, decides he must climb into the ring to fight, you think "Ah, sweet. Here's comes the kickass montage training sequence we've grown to love," you get Eljiofor stripping down to show off his chiseled body, he punches the bag, once, twice...and that's it. Cut to fight night. So, while David Mamet said he wanted to make an homage to the American fight film, what we really meant was, "I wanted to make a David Mamet American fight film," in which he turns all the fight film conventions upside down. Was it for better or for worse? There was certainly a lot of applause last night, but then again, it was the premiere. His second goal was to make an homage to the samurai film. This is a far more accurate way of looking at Redbelt. One man, clinging to his moral code no matter what the cost to himself or those around him...yes, much more like it. Looking back at Redbelt, and hearing Mamet himself say this, it makes much more sense...and really, Mamet treats the American fight film as a samurai would...bending it to his will, following his own moviemaking code, and not letting himself be corrupted by what the audience expects. If you are a fan of Mamet, and Mamet-ese, you'll get your fill here. While there aren't any classic take-away lines, there's more than enough of the Mamet spitfire/Meisner-esque conversation to tide you over. And Ricky Jay has one monologue toward the end of the film that (deservedly) got a long round of applause. There are multiple double-crosses, per the usual -- no one is to be trusted. The film's plot devolves towards the end, (what happens to the loan shark debt?) and if you're expecting to go into this film and leave knowing what "redbelt" means, you will be disappointed. On balance, this is a David Mamet movie, top to bottom. If you like his work, you won't be disappointed. But this is not, repeat NOT, an MMA film, with MMA fighting. (There isn't even an octagon.) While I haven't seen much advertising for this movie, I'm sure they are going to play the MMA angle up as much as they can, and that's going to leave a lot of ticket buyers disappointed. Now, I'm not an MMA fan (or anti-fan) but even I know enough to know this isn't it. (And yes, Brazilian jujitsu is one style in MMA, but one of many.) I will say that all the actors are uniformly excellent. Tim Allen will surprise you. Eljiofor is his usual soulful self. Mortimer makes you fall in love with her. Alice Braga is a force. The Mametians are their usual excellent selves. In the end, it's a David Mamet film, that happens to involve fighting. Take that for what you will. I'd also like to add a special sarcastic "thank you" to the Tribeca folks for projecting two massive American Express logos on either side of the screen during the movie, which were hugely distracting. I'd also like to thank the ushers who were busy walking up and down the aisles waving their flashlights the entire movie, yet couldn't be bothered to do a single thing about the numerous people on Blackberries and iPhones. And finally, thanks for booking a world premiere into a freakin' lecture hall at a community college. Gee, I sure hope you weren't expecting movie theater seats for your movie's world premiere, Mr. Mamet!