by Willard Manus
Mamet, who owns a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has set his story in an L.A. self-defense studio run by Mike Terry (Chewitel Ejiofor, in a dynamic performance). Mike is a principled believer in the Samurai code as a way of life, a moral force. He has avoided the prize-fighting circuit and its monetary rewards because, as he puts it, "Competition weakens the fighter." Mike is content to operate his studio and remain faithful to his code, even as the demands of the material world begin to impinge on him.
His wife Sondra (Alice Braga, last seen with Wil Smith in I Am Legend), is a Brazilian-born, struggling fashion designer who also does the books for Mike. Seeing nothing but red ink in his future, she's been using her own meager funds to pay the studio's bills. While concerned about their financial situation, Mike believes with a stoic kind of fatalism that things will work out in time. Above all, the integrity of the studio and the noble sport it represents must be respected and maintained.
Mamet's story is jolted into a higher gear by the sudden intrusion of a distraught, out of control woman, Laura Black (Emily Mortimer), who on a rainy night crashes her car into Mike's van, which is parked outside the studio. Laura barges in, tearfully trying to apologize and make restitution. Instead, she causes more damage when she mistakenly believes an off-duty policeman (who is one of Mike's top students), Joe Collins (Max Martini), is about to aim his revolver at her. Nervously, she grabs the gun and fires it, just missing Collins but shattering the studio's front window.
When Collins refuses to arrest Laura, opting not to bring dishonor down on the studio, the act sets in motion a series of events that eventually will force Mike to question everything he believes in. His life--and the lives of those around him--will be changed irrevocably.
Prodded by Sondra to ask her brother Bruno Silva (Rodrigo Santoro (300, Xerxes) for a loan to keep his business afloat, Mike goes to Bruno's nightclub. Big mistake. Bruno, who is also a promoter for the Ultimate Fighting world, won't help Mike out unless he agrees to fight professionally for him. Not only that, a brawl breaks out between some loudmouth drunks and a Hollywood star, Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Mike intervenes and saves Chet from a bad beating.
The grateful Chet invites Mike and his wife to dinner. Hollywood becomes the main focus of the story for a while. Mike lands a job as fight coordinator for Chet's new film, a war story involving martial arts. As for Sondra, she is taken up by Chet's wife Zena (Rebecca Pidgeon), who gushes over her fabric designs and promises to invest in her business and help Sondra bcome rich and famous.
Eventually, REDBELT shows the Hollywood world to be as empty and false as the Ultimate Fighting world. Ruled by television and crooked, greedy promoters, infested by loan sharks, bookies and bloodthirsty fans, Ultimate Fighting is exposed by Mamet with ruthless honesty and realism. Pitted against the phonies and hypocrites who have made a travesty of martial arts principles, Mike ends up taking part in a bloody, bonecrunching battle that symbolizes the age-old battle between good and evil.
REDBELT is fight movie, but an unusual one in that it deals as much in spiritual and ethical values as it does with punches and kicks.