I would hate to live in a David Mamet movie.
A simple trip to the deli for a bagel would result in an elaborate confidence scheme involving the clerk, three delivery boys, and the store dog. Before I knew it, I'd have signed over my savings account, my house, and all my worldly possessions.
Which means they'd end up with a $5 bill, 12 square feet of caveside property, and a bag of saltines. But I wouldn't have a bagel. That's the kind of loss you just don't come back from.
In Redbelt, Mamet's latest, Chiwetel Ejiofor is a jiu jitsu instructor at a Los Angeles dojo. One night, Emily Mortimer comes in off the street, distraught and on edge; a dojo student and off-duty cop tries to help her, but Mortimer spooks, grabbing his gun and shooting out the dojo's window.
Rather than ruin her life with an attempted murder charge over an accident, the cop lets her go. The dojo's walking a thin green line, though. Ejiofor and his wife don't have the money to replace the window. Ejiofor goes to his brother-in-law's club to ask for a loan. While there, he sees slumming megastar Tim Allen assaulted by a group of locals. Ejiofor intervenes, and within seconds, he's beaten the attackers to the ground.
A grateful Allen invites Ejiofor and his wife to dinner. Within days, impressed by Ejiofor's quiet honor and deep knowledge of combat (both as a martial artist and a veteran), Allen offers to make him a consultant and producer on Allen's current Iraq War picture. It's a stroke of pure fortune. It's too good to be true.
It's a complex rabbit-hole of a plot that takes its time cohering. When it all draws together, it's a show-stopper.
Depending on your feelings towards incredibly distinctive dialogue and the ins and outs of elaborate cons, Mamet's one of those love/hate directors. I'm more of a lover than a hater, as my life-sized poster of Keira Knightley can attest, but with Redbelt, Mamet backs off some of his dialogic excess without losing the power of his writing. If the result isn't yet mainstream, it's a whole lot less polarizing, too.
Beyond that, it's Ejiofor and his character that holds Redbelt together. Ejiofor does a lot of eye-acting here--his face stays placid while his eyes grow more haunted and hollow with each new betrayal. It's a great performance, crushing and intense. His personal code is so rigorous he won't even fight in competitions -- they aren't real fights, real fights aren't fair -- but this code doesn't make him naive, it makes him a walking threat, the kind of person who either destroys the corrupt men around him or gets destroyed by them. Quite possibly, it's both.
It's also something of a triumphant sports movie, though without all the regular cliches to clue you in, or the heady pulse of The Eye of the Tiger, the extent of Ejiofor's underdog defiance doesn't become clear until the credits are about to roll. But it's more than that, too -- the victory's not the important thing, it's the willpower it takes to become unbeatable.
Redbelt has too many curves to its plot for the movie to address them all, little things that don't stick out as problems until the glow of its big wrap-up has faded. It takes a while to build its momentum, spending a little too much time as just a good movie before it starts contending to be a great one. And while this is more asset than liability, it can be a struggle to keep up with its web of characters and the isolated incidents that begin to define their lives.
These are mostly the symptoms of a movie taking such big strides that sometimes the background details get a little blurry. Redbelt's the kind of original vision that might well get better the longer you carry it with you.