REVIEW: Violence is Golden (and a Little Exhausting) in The Raid: Redemption
Despite the late addition of "Redemption" to the title of The Raid, there's little to no atonement to be had in this stripped-down action movie. These characters are not here to have some kind of emotional journey, they're here to kick ass. And so much ass is kicked over The Raid's 100 minutes that viewers may feel a little bruised themselves upon exiting, for the most part in a good way -- this is a film that serves as a remind of just how wonderfully cinematic violence can be.
Written and directed by the Welsh Gareth Evans but set in and populated with actors from Indonesia, The Raid takes place, with the exception of an introductory sequence, entirely inside a decrepit 15-story apartment building in Jakarta. It's owned by Tama (Ray Sahetapy), an underworld boss who's set up the structure as a safe house for criminals and drug addicts who rent rooms there when they need to hide out -- the cops won't go near it. That suggests the mission on which our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) and the rest of his elite police force have been sent has more to it than just clean-up -- though when the question is asked of why now, it's quickly dismissed.
Armed and under the command of the no-nonsense Jaka (Joe Taslim), the team methodically makes its way up from floor to floor, cuffing room occupants and securing each level, until they're spotting by a kid who sounds the alarm, and all hell breaks loose. Tama, flanked by his two lieutenants Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), gets on the intercom to tell his tenants they'll have free rent for life if they take care of the invaders. Guys with guns spring out of the apartments lining each long hall, and the film becomes a maelstrom of automatic weapons, machetes and elbows to the face.
Uwais, whom Evans discovered while shooting a documentary about the indigenous Indonesian martial art pencak silat, is handsome and stolid and unlikely to win any major acting awards in the near future. But he does have a certain screen charisma and, once he gets moving, he's an impossible and impressive blur of motion. Many of the fight sequences showcase the brisk efficiency of Uwais's deadliness, as he works his way along a whole hallway full of men trying to kill him, leaving them battered or lifeless with some well-placed blows to the kneecaps or head. After the initial culling of the cops via sniper rifles and machine guns, The Raid: Redemption sets aside firearms in favor of fists and blades and lets fight scenes play out rather than chopping them to bits in the annoying recent style of shooting action.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Evans has actual trained martial artists at his disposal and doesn't have to cut around actors who are replaced at key moments by stunt doubles. And they're not all of the same school -- Taslim, for instance, is a Judo medalist. While Uwais, whose character is devout and incorruptible and has a pregnant wife at home and another family member in the wind, is unquestionably the star, Ruhian, as his most deadly antagonist, steals the show. His character's introduced as a bloodthirsty enforcer, but is noticeably smaller than everyone else on screen. It's not until he orders Jaka into a secluded room in order to kill him in hand-to-hand combat (he puts the gun away, saying "these take away the rush") that we get to see him in action, and he doesn't seem constrained by normal forces of gravity. The movie takes a discernible pleasure in his two big fight scenes, letting them play out at almost decadent but fully deserved lengths.
There's a sliver of a plot to The Raid, but it's really not worth going over -- when the characters pause to talk, which is rare, it does tend to kill the film's momentum. That's not to say it's all hallway battles and fire fights; one of the cleverest bits has two characters hiding in a tight crawlspace while a baddie idly jabs his machete through the thin wall, and another involves the men breaking through the battered floor of an apartment to get away from gunmen at the door.
Set to a score from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, The Raid's wall-to-wall action eventually gets a little repetitive -- watching guys get their heads slammed into walls does start to lose its impact, no pun intended -- but the film's use of its space is never dull. It gets an entertaining element out of the juxtaposition of shabby domesticity with outrageous action, with one escape depending on an explosive inside a refrigerator. Staircases, elevators, atriums -- the film may be set in one location, but it appears to make use of every nook and cranny of that setting. And while there's a video-game quality to the way it proceeds in stages, leveling up, retreating and acquiring new objectives, at its heart The Raid is strictly old school, a film that gets a lot of glee out of the physical capabilities of its cast and their capacity to wreak havoc.