“There’s no one here but the fighters.”
I was pretty damn loathe to watch this without any prior knowledge of what it was about etc after Spartan completely failed to ignite me. That I’ve been terrible at keeping up the movie-watching habit lately (I’ll get better soon, I promise) made me even more apprehensive: I thought a stupid comedy might’ve been an easier option to get me writing again.
But dammit, it’s Mamet. I decided that if this movie couldn’t hold my attention then there must clearly be something wrong with me or it, lol, and I dove in. The opening credits didn’t let me down – all the names you want in a Mamet movie, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, a couple of surprises in Tim Allen and Jennifer Grey, the brilliant Robert Elswitt on photography duties. And then the madness begins.
The movie is pretty convoluted for the first 40 minutes. Speaking of Elswitt, the quirkiness of the plot points actually kind of reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson. A strange and frazzled girl walks out of the rain into a martial arts place and almost shoots a police officer and we’re just expected to accept that “these crazy things happen all the time” as the Magnolia narrator might say. The moment is “forgotten” and we move onto something else. I think the one reason none of this bugged me because it was scored – yes, scored, I think that’s the only word for it – at all times by Mamet’s unmistakably perfect dialogue (something else that’s familiar in Anderson movies, in fact – I don’t think I’d ever entirely made the connection). It’s like Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes plus the old world meets new world ways of Ronin meets Rocky and Mamet’s edge.
But fear not, because it all comes together in the end, in more astonishingly powerful ways than I’d ever have seen coming. The strange girl turns out to be an attorney who has issues with physical contact after being attacked before the story begins. There’s a scene where a trainer from the martial arts place at the start, our hero Chiwetal Ejiofor, who must surely be headed for an Oscar some day if not today, breaks through the wall and holds her in exactly the way she doesn’t want in order to help her. It’s an outstanding scene ending in the line above that speaks volumes about how the good guys, the honest guys, maybe avoid such confrontations too much. The movie is ultimately about having enough of the bullsh*t and speaking the truth and it’s done in such an overwhelmingly brisk and unique fashion … one should expect no less from David Mamet, but like I said, after Spartan … it’s practically phenomenal. Double bill it with In Bruges. Even I’m inclined to dub it a “man movie” despite it’s leanings towards very womanly issues in that attorney subplot that really made the movie for me – those two times Ejiofor and the attorney touch are cinema at its best to me.