Redbelt wound up being ultimately unsatisfying for me, which was all the more regrettable given that 95% of the movie rocked. Jeffwik noted last night that he’d never seen a Mamet movie which progressed towards an emotional climax in the way Redbelt attempts, and on reflection I think that’s exactly it. Mamet was working a bit outside his comfort zone, and almost nails it, but I’m not sure the guy knows how to do a story in which good guys win at the end.
Which is a pity, because he builds tension and despair about as well as anyone in the business. The story is positively claustrophobic, not in the scenery but in the way Chiwetel Ejiofor’s options contract and dwindle. He’s in a bad state, and then there’s a ray of hope, and then it vanishes hard. He’s the perfect actor for this, too — it’s another movie where he nails the tough determined moralist who suffers for his morals. See also Dirty Pretty Things. So you’ve got this foreboding, mannered atmosphere to work with.
About five minutes before the movie ended, I thought it was going to be another despairing Mamet ending, which would be OK by me. The moment when Ejiofor turns back was beautifully staged, too: silhouettes with no dialogue, just an action and a decision. That worked. And the culminating fight scene was unlikely, but on the margins of plausible. And again, it’s Mamet. One can accept some artifice in a Mamet movie.
But the last two beats fall flat. Perhaps one would have been all right. The fact that the two redemptive moments are identical, two separate people performing the same action — that was leaden for me. Yes, we get it. Ejiofor is noble and is recognized as such. Just… not twice.
Of course, this is the story equivalent of the repetitive overlapping Mamet dialogue I love, so perhaps I’m getting what I deserve. Still, it just broke my acceptance of the artificial world.
Which is a shame, because other than that it’s one of the best things he’s done in years. There’s the usual cast of Mamet regulars doing the things they do, plus Ejiofor, plus Tim Allen (who’s awesome). The aforementioned tension hooked me emotionally; I cared about the outcome. I’d even still recommend it. I just wanted the climax to match up with the rest of the movie.