Dir: David Mamet
Star: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Max Martini

Mamet does martial-arts? Didn't see that one coming. However, it makes more sense when you learn that his intention was to make a modern samurai movie, and the world of mixed martial-arts offered a convenient backdrop in front of which the story could be told. Mike Terry (Ejiofor) is a poor but honest, martial arts teacher, whose brother-in-law keeps inviting him to use his talents in MMA contests, where the big bucks are to be found. Mike keeps refusing, but a chance [or is it?] encounter with action movie-star Chet Frank (Allen), sets in motion a train of events that will force him into some difficult decisions, as he struggles to try and retain his honour, in the face of mounting pressures - both from friends, and those who might not be as friendly as they appear...

It is, first and foremost, a David Mamet film, and so that's where the strengths lie: dialogue that sounds somewhere between poetic and entirely artificial, and twists that pull the rug out from the viewer with dexterity. Just don't expect an action-packed extravaganza; this is much more about the philosophy of violence, than the act itself. MMA in general, does not lend itself to being cinematic - there's a reason kung-fu films keep a mile away from any kind of realistic fighting - and while there is the climactic battle at the end, it feels more perfunctory than anything. I know what it's trying to do; less sure it succeeds. More realistic expectations, however, will be met satisfactorily. Ejiofor cuts a fine figure as a man struggling to do the right thing, who finds himself equally out of his depth in the worlds of Hollywood and the fight game: if hard to say which is more dishonest, as portrayed here, it'll put you off any involvement in either.

[May 2009]

Beyond the mat
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