Writer-director David Mamet channels his long-time interest in martial arts and fondness for elaborate con games into an unusual contribution to the ‘fight film noir’ genre. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom Mamet equates to the legendary Henry Fonda, is on scintillating form as an honourable jiu-jitsu instructor whose belief that “there’s always an escape” is tested when he becomes entrapped into fighting in a pay-per-view mixed martial arts competition. For once, Mamet’s reach seems to outdistance his grasp, and a failure to tie up all the loose ends lends an unsatisfying air to the denouement. The cast, however, is uniformly excellent, and typically eclectic – who else but Mamet would assemble Ejiofor, Tim Allen (as an over-the-hill action movie star), Ricky Jay, David Paymer, Emily Mortimer and Joe Mantegna for a martial arts movie – but the standout performance is Robert Elswit’s luminous widescreen cinematography, which is so superbly realised in 1080p, you’ll immediately want to rent everything else he ever shot.
EXTRAS: “In a play you don’t have any pictures, so you only wanna write what the actors say. In a movie, you want to tell the stories in pictures, so you write as little dialogue as possible.” Whether or not he practices what he preaches, it’s always good to hear Mamet exercise his intellectual muscle, as he does here in a lo-fi half-hour Q&A and the kind of commentary which turns any collection of Mamet DVDs into a virtual film school. Also included: a 20-minute ‘making of’, an interview with Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, and mini-documentaries about the mixed martial arts phenomenon, and Japanese-American magician Cyril Takayama, who plays a small but pivotal part in the film. [The only BD Live feature active at press time was, helpfully, the trailer.]