Redbelt (2008)

Rated: R for strong language.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: BDBB=B
Budget: $7 million
Box Office: $2 million ($2.3 US, $0.1 million Intl.)

Written and Directed by: David Mamet, the genius behind The Winslow Boy, Wag the Dog, television’s The Unit, House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, the Untouchables and the genre-defining classic Glengarry Glenross.
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Max Martini, Alice Braga, and Emily Mortimer, with appearances by Tim Allen, Joe Mantegna, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon, Jennifer Grey, Ray Mancini, and Dan Inosanto.

A struggling expert on Brazilian jiu-jitsu finds himself torn between his need for money and loyalty to his ideals and the purity of his form of combat when he is railroaded into fighting in a mixed martial-arts competition.

Entertainment Value: B
I wasn’t even going to see this until I learned that it is a David Mamet project. For the record, David Mamet is probably my favorite writer for stage and film. As expected, this was intricate, clever, and substantial. And the actors were all excellent. However, it just wasn’t the brilliant work I normally expect from him. There were implausible elements and it all wrapped up in a strange and almost too-quick a fashion. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B+, Violence C, Language D-, Illegality D
Several scenes take place in a nightclub, and people regularly consume alcohol and tobacco. Although it’s a movie about martial arts, the violence is mostly minor in fight scenes, except for a suicide which is shown in the background once. Rape is discussed. The language certainly merits an R rating, although, like most of Mamet’s work, it never seems gratuitously used. Gambling is also a central theme.

Significant Content: B
There are some great deep themes in this movie. The most obvious one is the dilemma between pursuing something purely and profiting very little or allowing it to be corrupted and commercialized to great financial gain. Warriors versus entertainers is the main question, and what lengths would you go to do remain pure? Another major issue here is learning how to control yourself and respond wisely to every challenge and knowing how to find a solution to every problem even when you want to give up. Honor is also a major theme here.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As a Mamet work, there’s certainly an artistic feel to this movie, and there are plenty of interesting things to discuss here, both ethically and even spiritually. One small note, the movie uses Mike’s real (in the story) combat experience to mock the way war films use experts to make the fake look more realistic. But this very manipulation in turn makes us view Mike with greater credibility as the sort of expert who knows such things. Since Mamet is ever the planner, I trust this contradiction is meant to be noticed. But Ejiofor never served in the military, so it makes me wonder whether Mamet is conflicted about his own occupation in this regard.

Discussion Questions:
~Which belt matters more to Michael? What is his choice of the belts saying? Which belt carries more honor? Why?
~Mike says that he doesn’t like to compete because it imposes artificial rules on a fight. Compare his attitude about this with his embrace of a wide array of social rules of morality and etiquette. Is he being inconsistent?
~In a couple of different scenes, people are told they cannot smoke where they’re standing. Why are these ill-fitting moments included in the film? Is Mamet trying to make some statement by contrasting the social disapproval of smoking with the allowance of every other sort of vice (drinking, gambling, fighting, lying, sex) that is going on at these places?
~Who in this film demonstrates honor and who demonstrates disrepute? How important is honor? Is honor another word for pride? Is honor something that a Christian should endorse? Is it fair to say that Jesus’ mission was to embrace dishonor for a greater purpose?
~When Mike teaches Laura that standing at a distance equals safety, what else is being implied about life?
~“Breathe. Relax. Control your emotions. Make the other guy get tired. The moves work. There is always an escape.” These are just some of the elemental teachings of Mike’s dojo. Comment on their application outside of martial arts, especially the last two. If these concepts were applied to social skills, what “moves” would we teach people to help them become more adept at such things?
~Is this movie pro-gambling or not?
~Discuss the wisdom of the early decision to act as if nothing happened with the gun?
~The Bible says that you cannot serve God and Mammon. Comment on the similarity between this idea and the ideas of this movie?
~Consider the idea that films are essentially con games. What are the similarities and differences?
~To what degree is Mike’s wife right in her criticism of him? Did Mike marry wisely?
~Why do you think so many martial artists wanted to participate in this film which exposes and debunks their own sport? Why would Mamet write a film which seems to level criticisms against films that are true even of his own works?

Overall Grade: B
It’s not the best Mamet work to date, but it’s certainly a very interesting one well worth watching if you don’t mind the language.

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