Chiwetel Ejiofor did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mike Terry in Redbelt.
Chiwetel Ejiofor's lead performance thankfully seems to be one of aspect of the film that insists on preventing the film from collapsing in on its owe indulgences. Now just from first glance Ejiofor's performance here is yet another example of why it is mind boggling that he isn't a bigger star. Ejiofor is incredibly charismatic here. He just projects off the screen beautifully here to the point that he is simply just a traditionally great leading man here in a very general sense. His work though needs to go beyond this given Mamet's fairly bland direction that does nothing to grant any sense of verisimilitude to the flamboyancy of his writing. The funny thing is that Ejiofor has an easy way out, however he doesn't take it. In that one could almost forgive Mike as the one character who speaks in the way that Mamet's writes this film. That is because he's suppose to be a man with a very personal philosophy who has almost an otherworldly perspective towards the world. It would not be out of the ordinary for such a man to speak a little oddly. The interesting thing is though Ejiofor doesn't accept this loop hole, as he also gives the most naturalistic performance even if discounting that Mike is not the most ordinary man.
One should be thankful though for Ejiofor's approach though because as much as one could get away with Mike being bit off-beat his Zen attitude could be grating in the wrong hands. Ejiofor is anything but grating here offering the substance within the words that go far beyond potential fortune cookie sayings. I quite frankly could listen to Ejiofor just teach one of Mike's classes for a whole film because of how well he delivers every single one of his lines. Ejiofor captures this inherent passion into each word that the man speaks, and only allows the utmost conviction in the ideas he's presenting. What I love about Ejiofor's approach in this is frankly how welcoming he is in the presentation of his ideals. When he speaks about the nature of a fighter, where one should not fight without proper cause, he does not come off as a pretentious fool, but rather endears you towards these sentiments. There is such a earnestness within the presentation that Ejiofor brings that encourages you to see the meaning of his explanations. They never feel like platitudes through the empathy of this that Ejiofor offers in them. He does not just speak to those around him, but interacts. The words themselves contain a real power however there is also such a sense of concern, and encouragement within his eyes as he seems to wish to bring out the same passion to the one he speaks that he himself holds.
Ejiofor anchors the film even beyond being the center of the film through his portrayal of Mike that creates an investment into the story no matter how overly complex if not ridiculous it becomes. He realizes Mike as this center point of just this honest man engaging in what slowly reveals itself to be a dishonest world, an excessively dishonest world in the case of this film. Ejiofor is great here though because he manages to make the spirit of the character as such that it never feels intangible even though it is ethereal in some ways. He grounds it in his work that essentially is a man telling everyone around him that they can behave as he does, he even encourages it. One of my favorite moments in Ejiofor's performance is when he gives a basic lesson to the somewhat unstable lawyer Laura (Emily Mortimer) who stumbles across his dojo. In the scene he essentially is telling her how to kill someone wielding a knife, however Ejiofor in the moment doesn't emphasize the idea of violence. He rather projects this wish to inspire strength within the woman, and he is absolutely convincing in this idea. Ejiofor ensures throughout the film that Mike wins you over with his attitude towards life, as he shows you its value at every turn.
That becomes a particularly essential facet towards this film as Mike just has one tragedy after another befall him and those around him due to the amorality of all others. Ejiofor manages to maintain the inherently good nature of the man in a way that never feels bland nor naïve. He again brings such an earnest passion and considerable charm within that passion to which he not only makes you believe Mike as man he also makes you care about his plight. He also acts a proper surrogate for the audience in expressing the right low key confusion, and exasperation towards every plot development, caused by the immorality of others. I love the way Ejiofor portrays this effectively as below Mike's philosophy to the point he conveys the idea that Mike just believes such people should be disregarded and ignored much of the time. An over abundance of revelations though forces Mike to eventually face them. Ejiofor is great in bringing a real power to Mike's expressions of his personal dismay at the men's actions. The biggest affront being when he finds out the champion in the mixed martial arts tournament intends to take dive despite the presence of a master of the form known as the professor. There is only with such a sincerity in every word that he finds in just again echoing how strongly the man's beliefs stand go deep within his very core, and realizes how these violation shake him. There is not a false word only this most remarkable quiet discontent Ejiofor finds in his blunt delivery and earnest eyes. The final fight sequence is a great moment for Ejiofor as he conducts that same passion within his physical performance portraying so well that in every physical interaction it is towards this attempt to strive to reveal the truth than to try to beat the man. Although the setup itself is excessively contrived, and rather rushed I will say I found Mike's final embrace of the professor rather moving. This is almost entirely to do with Ejiofor's work which maintains such a conviction within the character's personal philosophy that he has created the meaning of the moment within mostly his work. This is a terrific performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as he brings to life a character worthy of your empathy and investment even if he is stuck in an often questionable film.