If you are an action movie fan, you will walk out of this film on an adrenaline high.
In the The Raid: Redemption, highly-trained cop Rama (martial arts star Iko Uwais) leaves his pregnant wife at home and embarks on his first mission with a squad of elite cops. Their task? Infiltrate the slum stronghold of the ruthless Boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy), and bring the gangster to justice. The problem? The apartment complex the cops are invading is occupied by tenants who range from assassins to thugs to certifiable psychopaths – and all the other scum the slums have to offer.
The cops barely make it through the door before they’re spotted by the crooks, and from there it is an all-out war, floor by floor, as Rama and his teammates try to brave a nightmare of violence and destruction in order to make their arrest.
The Raid: Redemption has been hyped as one of the most thrilling and enjoyable action movies to come along in the last decade or so, and this is one of the rare occasions where the hype is actually well deserved. Put simply: this film is awesome. It is easily my favorite action movie of the last few years – and one I might rank as my #2 favorite behind Die Hard (blaspheme! I know). In my opinion, it’s just that good.
The film is a product of Welsh director Gareth Evans (who also wrote the script) and martial arts stuntmen / actors from the Indonesian film industry. (For those wondering, the film is in Indonesian dialect with English subtitles.) The Raid is also a fantastic showcase for the Indonesian martial arts style of “Pencak Silat,” which makes the “wire-fu” antics of other Asian action films look like child’s play. The fight choreography was designed by stars Iko Uwais (Rama) and Yayan Ruhian (who plays the villain “Mad Dog”), and I do not exaggerate when I say that there are certain sequences that will have you dropping your jaw or squealing in excitement about what you’ve just seen.
Aside from the adrenaline-inducing fight choreography, The Raid has some of the most impressive camerawork seen in an action flick. Instead of fight sequences viewed at medium distance – or worse, indiscernibly filmed in “shaky-cam” style – Evans and his camera crew include the camera as part of the fight choreography. During a fight sequence (of which there are many), the camera dances around combatants in perfect synch with their movements and blows – even going so far as to circle around doorways and walls (should someone kicked kicked through one) or dropping down through floors (as combatants move to different planes by jumping down stairwells or holes).
This kinetic, carefully choreographed camerawork is also effective in scenes of straight-up gunplay, offering us distinct setups (bad guys hiding on a floor above, ready to ambush cops on the floor below), which create great tension and keep the action clear, structured and logical at all times. That this all occurs within the confines of a building (and on a shoestring budget) makes the technical aspects of the film even more impressive. The film recently got an upgraded soundtrack from Linkin Park frontman Mike Shinoda, and the pulsing electronica music fits perfectly with the action.
In a stroke of further brilliance, Evans also borrows many tropes of the ‘survival horror’ sub-genre. The film effectively uses a lineup of stock characters to be (often gruesomely) dispatched, as well as bad guys that could rival some of the more horrific and frightening slasher film killers of the last 20 years. When you see characters like the savage “Mad Dog” (Yayan Ruhian), criminal mastermind “Andi” (Doni Alamsyah), or ‘the machete gang,’ you’ll understand these slasher movie comparisons.
Evans also uses some great tension moments lifted right out of the horror genre: for example, characters hiding from pursuers while jagged blades are being scraped along walls just around the corner, or shots of killers standing over a hiding protagonist who is trying not to breathe, lest he be slaughtered. The elements of the horror genre incorporated into this action film ultimately create delicious tension, and make the actual action moments much more cathartic and thrilling to watch.
With a few exceptions, the characters in the movie are somewhat thin and stereotypical – but really that’s par for the course if you look at any horror film. The main players are fleshed out nicely (namely, Rama and a few of the villains) and there are even some nice twists on certain characters that defy your initial expectations. The performances don’t require all that much range (it’s mostly physical acting), but the main characters are handled well by their respective performers. While the character aspect of the script is just okay, by the end of the film Evans does succeed in creating a larger mythos that will set the stage for an interesting and exciting sequel (which is currently in the works, BTW).
If I had to point out flaws, they would be things like some of the low-budget effects (CGI blood) or the aforementioned thinly-drawn supporting characters. However, these complaints are mere nitpicks (worth no more than half a star) – and when compared to the overall sense of enjoyment and thrills that The Raid offers, these nitpicks don’t even qualify. If you are an action movie fan, you will walk out of this film on an adrenaline high.
The Raid: Redemption opens in U.S. theaters on March 23, 2012. It is Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, and language.
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