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Redbelt (Widescreen)

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David Mamet's Redbelt is a kind of Karate Kid for the intellectual, philosophical set -- a sober, action-peppered drama that asks what value there is in honor when one's opponents, and even adversaries, are willing to deceive and destroy lives in order to make a quick buck. It's a cynical meditation on the themes of nobility, integrity, and truth that successfully sidesteps the clich?s of the typical action-drama, while still managing to deliver everything that audiences love about those films -- the struggling underdog, the serpentine villain, and the knockout final brawl -- all in ways that are sure to pleasantly surprise.The story revolves around Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an honor-bound Jiu-jitsu instructor who, along with his business-savvy wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), is struggling to keep his financially strapped self-defense studio in business. Mike believes that competition is weakening, but in fact, he's about to be drawn into the ring by circumstances beyond his control. Those circumstances -- involving a hard-drinking Hollywood action star, his shrewd producer, a disturbed lawyer, a troubled cop, and a crooked fight promoter -- might threaten to become unwieldy if assembled by a lesser talent, but writer/director Mamet ties them all together with a finesse that makes it look nearly effortless. The story moves along at a brisk and satisfying pace, the twists often arise out of what initially appear to be insignificant details, and the way Mamet subverts the concept of the final confrontation is truly inspired.Mamet may not be very adept at shooting a coherent action scene (they're mostly shot in a super-tight frame that was likely meant to portray the intimacy of the struggle but ends up dissolving the suspense by failing to give the viewer any true sense of perspective), but it's the emotional confrontations that prove to be the heart of Redbelt anyway. Performances are solid all around, with Ejiofor and Emily Mortimer standing out respectively as the warrior who shuns the spotlight to maintain his integrity, and the lawyer who fights on despite being traumatized. While Tim Allen's name may indeed draw some marquee value to the impressively cast film, he operates mainly on the periphery -- occasionally stepping in for brief scenes that primarily serve to propel Mike Terry's story. For those in search of an action-driven drama, Redbelt may disappoint as it frequently favors verbal sparring over full-blown fisticuffs. For those who know that words can hit as hard as fists, Redbelt is an absorbing, masterfully constructed story of a principled fighter who refuses to believe that true honor is dead. Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

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