Mike Terry (Chiwetal Ejiofor) is one honorable dude. When we first meet Mike he is in his martial arts dojo giving instruction to his prize student, Police Officer Joe Collins (Max Martini), who is battling Mike’s assistant codenamed Snowflake (Jose Pablo Cantillo) while having one of his armed strapped to his body. The lesson being that there’s no handicap you can overcome and there is no situation, whatever your handicap, that you can’t escape from. Thus we have the underlying theme of noted playwright David Mamet’s film ‘Red Belt’ which is the story of one man’s dogged determination to hold true to the principles that rule his life, and the various forces around him who could care less about those principles and want to make a few bucks.
So after Mike finishes training Joe and they’re about to close up shop he gets a surprise visit from the worlds most skittish lawyer in Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) who has accidentally struck Mike’s vehicle trying to get to a pharmacy before it closes. When we say that Laura is skittish, this is a massive understatement as this woman, being around these strange men, has her literally shaking in her own skin. So nervous is Laura she impulsively picks up Joe’s loaded service revolver which he irresponsibly casually laid down and fires it, only managing to shatter a window in Mike’s dojo, but this seemingly harmless action sets in motion a chain of events that drive the entire narrative of the movie.
This broken window introduces us to Mike's crazy hot but extremely unpleasant wife Sondra (Alice Braga) who points out emphatically that they do not have the money to fix this window and Mike needs to either use his immense fighting skills and start scrapping for dough, or at the very least ask her brother Bruno (Rodrigo Santoro) for some money. Mike chooses the latter and on his visit to Bruno’s bar, who happens to be a fight promoter, Mike breaks up a fight between some patron and big time movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Mike’s trouble’s seem to be over as he has made favor
with the movie star who gives him expensive gifts, has Mike and his wife over for dinner where Sondra is able to make some lucrative deals with Chet’s wife involving her own business of fashion design, and Mike even assists Chet in his latest film giving them advice on realism in fighting and letting them in on a few of his cherished training methods.
For reasons we can’t divulge, everything goes straight to hell… with a quickness. As if overnight Mike finds himself owing large coin to loan sharks, he’s punched in the gut by a terrible tragedy, he has the weight of the law hanging over his head and of course all his newfound Hollywood friends have completely betrayed him, abandoned him and stolen from him. Mike is now faced doing the one thing he abhors most in the world and that is fighting for money, which might be plenty bad as far as he is concerned, but far worse than he can ever imagine as everything and everybody seems stacked up against him leaving him very few options for a way out.
I would imagine your satisfaction level on ‘Red Belt’ somewhat lies in how you approach the film. Despite the subject matter and the fighting elements which control the narrative this isn’t ‘Bloodsport’ by any means, as this is a tough gritty Mamet style drama complete with the sleight of hand, the con and of course an appearance by card shark turned actor Ricky Jay who I’m guessing is Godfather to David Mamet’s children. Though the plot of this film is intricate to level almost not to be believed, I still enjoyed the complex tale that Mamet has woven of honor before dishonor. What I have learned in watching this, if I am to buy this film as the gospel, is that nobody in the entertainment business, on any level, can be trusted.
Chiwetal Ejiofor, whether he’s playing a vicious Sci-Fi cop or a drag queen, just can’t seem to do anything wrong with the various roles he chooses and he has absolutely no problem carrying this film as he gives a very solid, even and consistent performance as the character of Mike Terry. Mike Terry as a man of honor, a lethal fighter, or under intense duress, Ojiofor handles the various emotions and stages that his character has to deal with seeming relative ease. Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Ray Mantegna among others all give very credible performances for a movie that relies heavily on its characters to drive the narrative.
As I glossed over earlier, the elements within the plot of the narrative that have to come together so the story can go where it needs to go is so detailed that it borders on the ridiculous. I have read some discussions regarding this film that the whole thing is a setup just to get Mike to fight, which seems a bit of a stretch to me since the powers behind the scenes seem to be doing just fine with Mike laboring away in dojo obscurity so I’m not buying that one. It just seems to me that this is simply one of those ‘only in the movies’ type of plot lines that you have to accept if you’re going to buy into the film.
But despite the somewhat
outlandish plot devices that Mamet used to get from
point A to point Z, I enjoyed ‘Red Belt’ quite a bit as
it represented and conveyed, quite effectively, the core
values that I think that Mamet was trying to impart to
his audience about the code of honor in the fight
game. And the lack thereof in the entertainment