Redbelt

Redbelt movie poster

 

Red­belt is writer/director David Mamet’s ode to jiu-jit­su, of which he him­self is report­ed­ly a pur­ple belt. Mike Ter­ry (Chi­we­tel Ejio­for) is a strug­gling black belt jiu-jit­su instruc­tor, one of the few remain­ing prac­ti­tion­ers of mar­tial art in its authen­tic Japan­ese ori­gins. The pro­fes­sion­al com­bat sport asso­ci­a­tion MMA (Mixed Mar­tial Arts) has taint­ed the mar­tial art with com­mer­cial­ism and spec­ta­cle akin to pro­fes­sion­al wrestling. In con­trast, Ter­ry is a noble war­rior with an absolute code of hon­or, like Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) in Mamet’s Spar­tan (2004). Ter­ry is a for­mer spe­cial forces sol­dier, with a past in one or both Gulf Wars he does not wish to dis­cuss. One of his favorite apho­risms becomes some­thing that he real­izes he must live up to him­self: “There is no sit­u­a­tion from which you can­not escape.” He’s a fear­some fight­er, able to win a bar fight with­out throw­ing a sin­gle punch. But anoth­er of his apho­risms, “com­pe­ti­tion is weak­en­ing,” reflects his choice to teach self-con­fi­dence and reliance, not aggres­sive com­bat.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in RedbeltCom­pe­ti­tion is weak­en­ing”

Like many of Mamet’s films, Red­belt fea­tures many of his reg­u­lar sta­ble of actors: Rebec­ca Pigeon (Mamet’s wife, who also per­formed the music), Ricky Jay, David Paymer, Joe Man­teg­na, and a cameo from Ed O’Neil. Any­one famil­iar with Mamet’s films would know to sus­pect a char­ac­ter played by any one of these actors is up to some mis­chief, espe­cial­ly if the lat­ter two are seen to be in any kind of col­lu­sion. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly for a playwright/writer/director known for his char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly dense dia­log, the last long sequence is most­ly word­less.

Mamet states Red­belt is firm­ly in the fight film genre, sin­gling out the two recent exam­ples of Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby and Cin­derel­la Man. Like the superb Spar­tan, it’s also some­thing of a samu­rai movie. Just don’t call it a mar­tial arts or action flick. It also includes healthy dos­es of two oth­er Mamet obses­sions: the long con and the cor­rup­tion inher­ent in busi­ness. The most obvi­ous advan­tage of the long con in sto­ry­telling terms is that it auto­mat­i­cal­ly pro­vides a struc­ture for a fiendish­ly com­plex plot, as it did for both House of Games (1987) and The Span­ish Pris­on­er (1997).

Emily Mortimer and Chiwetel Ejiofor in RedbeltThere is no sit­u­a­tion from which you can­not escape”

Mamet’s recur­ring theme of insti­tu­tion­al cor­rup­tion in the busi­ness world is prob­a­bly best expressed in Glen­gar­ry Glen Ross (read The Dork Report review). But in his book Bam­bi Vs. Godzil­la (2007) and movie State & Main (2000), Mamet reveals the one par­tic­u­lar busi­ness that fas­ci­nates him the most: Hol­ly­wood. As he states in the elec­tron­ic press kit includ­ed in the Red­belt DVD, moviemak­ing is a busi­ness like any oth­er, but the par­tic­u­lars of its moral bank­rupt­cy fas­ci­nate him. Ter­ry is seduced by Hol­ly­wood as embod­ied by aging action star Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Frank first finds lever­age in the fact that Ter­ry is broke, but also rec­og­nizes that he is is secret­ly pride­ful, and seeks approval and recog­ni­tion for the bur­den of hon­or he has been car­ry­ing for so long. These flaws make him manip­u­lat­able. Frank ini­tial­ly seems to pro­vide the solu­tions to his prob­lems, but turns out to be the pre­cise inverse of his name: all emp­ty promis­es, façades, scams, and pre­tense.

The two cor­rupt worlds of Red­belt are both hun­gry for meat: pro­fes­sion­al sports need fight­ers to run through the grinder, and the movie busi­ness eats up ideas as raw mate­r­i­al for its prod­uct. They find both in Mike, and nei­ther wants to pay for what they try to take from him.


Offi­cial movie site: www.sonyclassics.com/redbelt

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Children of Men

Children of Men

 

Alfon­so Cuarón’s Chil­dren of Men is absolute­ly one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Two view­ings have over­whelmed me with some of the strongest emo­tion­al reac­tions I’ve ever had to a movie. It is, at the very least, one of the best of 2007 (along with Pan’s Labyrinth and Unit­ed 93), and every­thing the sim­i­lar­ly-themed V for Vendet­ta could have been.

Children of MenThis cof­fee packs a wal­lop

The movie opens near­ly two decades after the last human birth. Mass infer­til­i­ty is a ter­ri­fy­ing­ly plau­si­ble sci-fi trope in 2008, with loom­ing cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe, increased rates of autism and aller­gies, and the immi­nent threat of a globe-span­ning con­ta­gious dis­ease out­break like SARS (a fic­tion­al flu pan­dem­ic is allud­ed to in the film). As the infer­til­i­ty remains uncured, so too is it unex­plained for the audi­ence. The best sci­ence fic­tion avoids pedes­tri­an pseu­do-sci­ence that tends not to date well (2001: A Space Odyssey being the excep­tion that proves the rule). The most detail we learn is that women are infer­tile, and we can assume that cloning and arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion of frozen eggs have failed. So by the time the film opens, the harsh fact that the human race is doomed to slow­ly die out is a giv­en, and has reduced the world’s soci­eties into chaos. Only Britain has been able to sur­vive, to a point, using only the harsh­est total­i­tar­i­an meth­ods. In pro­pa­gan­da com­mer­cials glimpsed through­out the movie, Britain con­grat­u­lates itself for the fas­cism that makes it pos­si­ble to car­ry on; but is this kind of sur­vival worth the price?

Immi­grants flood the only coun­try with some sem­blance of sta­bil­i­ty, flee­ing unspec­i­fied atroc­i­ties abroad. All we learn of the Unit­ed States is of a vague cat­a­stro­phe in New York creep­i­ly referred to only as “it.” Immi­grants are demo­nized as “fugis” (for “fugi­tives,” per­haps pun­ning on the deroga­to­ry British slang “paki” for any and all Mid­dle East­ern­ers) and penned in con­cen­tra­tion camps. Many shots explic­it­ly allude to infa­mous images of cap­tive ene­my com­bat­ants in Guan­tanamo Bay. Sev­er­al of the fugi­tive voic­es we hear are Ger­man, caus­ing one to won­der just what exact­ly may have hap­pened in Ger­many, and if it may have been some­thing we have seen before in human his­to­ry. My Ger­man is non-exis­tent, but If I’m not mis­tak­en, we over­hear one cap­tive Ger­man woman bit­ter­ly com­plain to her guard for being locked up in a deten­tion cell with black peo­ple. It’s not a pret­ty pic­ture of human nature, that at the worst of times, the worst of us comes out.

Children of MenAt gun­point is one way to recon­nect with an ex

The five cred­it­ed screen­writ­ers, usu­al­ly a bad sign, have done an extra­or­di­nary job of adapt­ing the orig­i­nal nov­el by P.D. James (who, accord­ing to IMDB, has an uncred­it­ed cameo in the café bombed in the open­ing moments of the film). I don’t know if I would go so far as to say the movie is “bet­ter” than its source mate­r­i­al, but it is cer­tain­ly more vis­cer­al and emo­tion­al­ly affect­ing to a post 9/11 audi­ence. As an adap­ta­tion, the many changes are jus­ti­fied and ben­e­fit the trans­la­tion to a dif­fer­ent medi­um and time. Most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the chronol­o­gy is con­densed from months to days, and the rel­a­tive­ly polite insur­rec­tion­ist group The Five Fish has become a full-fledged ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion called sim­ply The Fish. Theo (Clive Owen) is younger, and no longer liv­ing a life of wealthy ease. He’s a gam­bler and alco­holic, and his orig­i­nal moti­va­tion to help The Fish is raw mon­ey. His cousin Nigel (Dan­ny Hus­ton) is not the all-pow­er­ful War­den of Eng­land of the book, but rather mere­ly the effete guardian of the Ark of the Arts. King Crimson’s dra­mat­ic Mel­lotron dirge “In the Court of the Crim­son King” fit­ting­ly accom­pa­nies Theo as he vis­its Nigel, pass­ing into a walled city that sep­a­rates the priv­i­leged élite from the work­ing mass­es out­side (Nao­mi Klein pre­dicts the future dom­i­nance of such places in the DVD bonus fea­tures). The Ark is a point­less quest to archive the world’s great works of art, includ­ing every­thing from Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Guer­ni­ca, to Pink Floyd’s inflat­able pig.

Children of MenCry­ing babies don’t usu­al­ly have this effect on peo­ple

Sev­er­al mind-bend­ing­ly impos­si­ble track­ing shots grace the film, so flu­id and jus­ti­fied by the action that the mind bare­ly reg­is­ters a lack of cut­ting. There is an incred­i­ble lev­el of detail in the art direc­tion, but as Cuaron declares in the DVD bonus fea­tures, the goal to was be the “anti-Blade Run­ner.” Two decades hence, tech­nol­o­gy has marched on only to a degree. What’s the point of inno­va­tion in fash­ion, auto­mo­biles, and con­sumer elec­tron­ics when the human race is doomed to extinc­tion? Eerie sights include fields of burn­ing cat­tle corpses (pos­si­bly due to mad cow dis­ease, or more like­ly the sim­ple fact that the farm­ing econ­o­my has col­lapsed), aban­doned and crum­bling schools, and the promi­nence of dog rac­ing as the sport of choice in a world with few­er and few­er fit young peo­ple every day.

Children of MenThe Human Project is real

Chil­dren of Men may be a pun­ish­ing­ly bleak vision of the future, but there is hope to be had. Theo is a bro­ken man resolved to a slow death, both his own and of his species. But there is some­thing spe­cial with­in him; his for­mer lover Julian (Julianne Moore) trusts him over every­one else to do the right thing when pre­sent­ed with a gift of hope: the first human child in two decades. Even ani­mals are drawn to him, includ­ing dogs, kit­tens, and deer. His friend Jasper (Michael Caine) prais­es the Hin­du Peace Mantra, which also appears as an epi­gram after the cred­its (over the sound of chil­dren play­ing), and bears repeat­ing here:

Shan­tih Shan­tih Shan­tih

Offi­cial movie site: www.childrenofmen.net

Must view: Dai­ly Film Dose’s Great­est Long Track­ing Shots in Cin­e­ma, includ­ing Chil­dren of Men.

Must view: a reel of fake adverts made for the film by For­eign Office Design (via Kottke.org)

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.