Heroes of the Zeroes: Redbelt
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
“Redbelt” threatened to be David Mamet’s most vainglorious misfire since forcing the (at best) dinner-theater talent of wife Rebecca Pidgeon into his films. A purple belt in the martial art of jiu-jitsu, Mamet could’ve slobbered out a superficial valentine to exotic culture.
Thankfully, Mamet sees cognitive cons all around him, and for-cash combat is an emotional shell game of the sort that has long fascinated and fueled him. A samurai noir dumped in summer 2008, “Redbelt” offered an eloquent, profane eulogy for the purity of discipline in the face of profit.
Can Chiwetel Ejiofor please get a piece of Denzel Washington’s meaty roles for black leading men? Never less than magnetic, Ejiofor can and has acted damn near every type of part and one-third of his 19 Zeroes movies reside on this list.
He’s immediately engaging as jiu-jitsu instructor Mike Terry, whose peaceful ethos emphasizes upper hands over uppercuts: Know the escape, let the other guy get tired, learn not to fight but prevail. High on principle and low on profit, Mike’s honor is tested after he befriends an action star (Tim Allen) he aided in a bar brawl and his ideology is exploited in a labyrinthine mixed martial-arts scheme.
Pidgeon excepted, Mamet’s cast — including Alice Braga, Joe Mantegna, Emily Mortimer and David Paymer — is perfectly suited to his reedy prose.
Raw, rugged and racing toward an unpredictably unceremonious finale, “Redbelt” offered yet more reasons to bow to Mamet as a sensei of duplicitous twists and devilish turns of phrase.