“Lights, Camera, FIGHT!”

The way things are going, it seems like its only a matter of time before mixed martial arts overtakes boxing as our society’s favorite form of legalized brutality. But despite skyrocketing ratings, there’s one area where the sweet science still reigns supreme: the movies. MMA may be drawing more new fans thanks to the awesome marketing tactics employed by the UFC (not to mention consistently entertaining and evenly matched pay-per-view cards), but Hollywood has, for some reason, hardly noticed.

 

Redbelt Overview

Directed By: David Mamet

Screenplay By: David Mamet

Release Date: May 2nd, 2008

Genre: Action / Drama

MPAA: Rated R for strong language

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics (USA)

 

Until now. This spring, Sony Pictures Classics will release Redbelt, the first Hollywood film ever to deal with the contemporary world of mixed martial arts. But this isn’t some slugfest geared toward the frat house crowd that tunes into Spike’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show every week. Uh-uh. Redbelt is none other than David Mamet. Yeah, that David Mamet. The Glengarry Glenn Ross David Mamet. The Oscar-nominated David Mamet. The guy whose plays and films have won just about every award imaginable. Bloodsport, this ain’t.

 

“I am intrigued not only by the art itself but also by the people who are attracted to it,” says the veteran writer-director, who trains under Renato Magno at the Street Sports Academy in Santa Monica, California. “The guys who are at my academy are cops, bouncers, and Navy Seals. They seriously want to know how to defend themselves in a close encounter. It’s not a past time, it’s their life, it’s what they want to learn to take out into the world with them.”

 

Mamet’s experience learning BJJ as a form of self-defense rather than as a competitive sport provides the central theme for the film’s narrative. Redbelt tells the story of Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Gulf War vet and hand-to-hand combat master who runs his own gym in Los Angeles. Terry is married to Sondra (Alice Braga), a Brazilian who is part of the legendary Silva clan (if you’re thinking the Gracies, you’re not far off). Her brother, Augusto (BJJ wizard John Machado), is thought by many to be the best fighter in the world, while another brother, Bruno (Rodrigo Santoro), operates a shady nightclub and promotes fights on the side. While Bruno urges him to turn pro, Mike wants nothing to do with organized fighting — to him, athletic competition, with its prize money, its rules, and its rampant corruption disgust him. That’s because Mike follows the rigid samurai code; a way of life that values honor, loyalty, and honesty above all material concerns.

 

What happens next isn’t easy to summarize. In typical Mamet fashion, Redbelt’s plot features more unsavory characters, unexpected twists, and double-crosses than your average WWE telecast. In a nutshell: Mike finds himself mixed up with a slimy movie star (Tim Allen), an even slimier producer (Joe Mantegna), an emotionally traumatized female lawyer (Emily Mortimer), a loan shark (David Paymer), a greedy fight promoter (Ricky Jay), a brilliant magician (Cyril Takayama), and a handful of other nefarious dudes. But like any great fight flick, it boils down to the final showdown. Mike decides to fight on the undercard of a huge event headlined by Silva to prevent his gym from closing. But when Mike arrives at the arena, he discovers something that forces him to fight for a much higher purpose: his honor, and the honor of his master, who sits in the audience.

 

Mamet credits legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo) for inspiring him to create a modern-day samurai as his hero. “If you look at Akira Kurosawa’s films, you’ll see that he reinvented the code of Bushido, the code of a warrior or Yamoto Da Mashi, the warrior spirit of Japan, for Japanese audiences after World War II. He based a lot of his movies curiously on American cowboy flicks, reinventing the notion of the ‘lonely hero,’ the man alone who lives through his creed.”

 

Unlike the so-called “serious” boxing films that continue to fill multiplexes on a yearly basis, the fight sequences in Redbelt actually look and feel real to true fans (and the practitioners) of MMA. Along with several beautifully orchestrated BJJ sequences designed by Renato Magno, the film also features a kickass bar fight, which was choreographed by none other than Danny Insanato, the legendary martial artist and kali (knife fighting) master who was the first man ever to receive a black belt from Bruce Lee. Other boldface names from the contemporary fight scene who get screen time in Redbelt include Randy Couture, Frank Trigg, Enson Inoue, former lightweight boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Rico Chiapparelli, Gene LeBell, and UFC blow-by-blow man Mike Goldberg.

 

It’s hard to predict whether Redbelt will find success at the box office, or even whether its cerebral approach to fighting will appeal to fans that are used to the shock-and-awe production values of your typical UFC card. But what isn’t up for debate is the fact that a world class artist and a major studio have offered further proof that MMA no longer exists on the fringes of either sports or mainstream entertainment.

 

“Dana White came over when we were first prepping the movie,” recalls Mamet. “He spent the day with us hanging out at the gym, talking to all the filmmakers, and he said, and I think it’s very true, ‘Go to any town in the United States and within half a mile you will find some sort of martial arts training facility, but you will be hard pressed to find a boxing gym.’ And I think that’s the answer to the question, because the interest doesn’t come out of nowhere, the interest comes out of people who are exposed to it.”

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