(This review was originally published on March 23, 2012 at Reel Film News)
It’s been a while since I’ve had difficulty containing my excitement after watching an action flick. It’s been even longer since a movie has delivered tenfold on the promise of its trailer. “The Raid:Redemption”, a movie for which I might need to create a new category in my own little world of sub-genres, did both. And it has a pretty damn good trailer.
Sure, “Redemption”, which wasn’t part of the original title (and which I will omit henceforth), doesn’t have any meaning here. And it shouldn’t. This is an exercise in unbridled mayhem that will undoubtedly polarize audiences. The violence is extreme and relatively non-stop, and there is little to no characterization involved in the film’s progression. But there is a place for movies like this, a place that doesn’t allow watered-down Hollywood subplots, blatantly awful wire-work or, God forbid, post-“Matrix” bullet-time FX abuse. “The Raid” is painstakingly executed, exhausting, visually creative action that is rendered like a hundred of its kind were unleashed simultaneously in 101 minutes. And trust me, I’ve never heard such a loud press audience.
An Indonesian language film (the setting is in an undisclosed city) helmed by Welsh-born director Gareth Evans (“Merantau”, “Footsteps”), “The Raid” doesn’t sacrifice a single beat (or beat-down for that matter) to establish extraneous plot points. It’s a simple scenario: a group of 20 special tactics cops (essentially a S.W.A.T. team) infiltrate a high-rise tenement known to be inhabited by a drug lord named Tama (Ray Sahetapy), his posse, and many other less-than-fortunate occupants who are under his thumb. The operation, organized by a lieutenant (Pierre Gruno) quickly goes awry, and the team find themselves trapped in the company of deranged hit men, drug addled psychopaths, and…. well, much worse.
The focus character, a rookie named Rama (fight co-choreographer Iko Uwais, who starred in Evans’ last feature “Merantau”) quickly takes center stage as the resident ass-kicker, trading blows in the Indonesian martial art known broadly as pencak silat, a bone-crushing, body flinging style of fighting that makes street violence look like a nice diversion. And that’s after the first forty minutes of automatic gunfire that depletes the team’s ammunition, whittling the opposing forces down to numbers that can be managed by hand-to-hand, head-to-wall, glass to throat combat. Soon emerges what appears to be the alpha, the bosses wiry, long-haired berserker named Mad Dog (the other fight co-choreographer, Yayan Ruhian), a pit bull who will gladly drop his gun to kill by hand.
And he does. Some of the film even borders on horror, with progressively imposing characters, weapons, and a tone that infuses a hint of “Silent Hill” into the building’s creepy, decomposing hallways. Cinematographer Matt Flannery creates a dizzying adhesion to characters as they plummet through ceilings, dodge projectiles, and catch some pretty horrific fates. The new soundtrack composition of Joseph Trapanese and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda adds to the kinetic energy of the film, especially at its most intense moments.
“The Raid” is not another “Die Hard” clone, with respect to that franchise, but an entirely different level of action film altogether. I can’t help but compare it to John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” (1992), which now seems melodramatic by comparison, and the bottomless clips in those firearms were much less believable than the endless energy bestowed upon the characters here. Perhaps it’s the twenty year gap, but I find it pointless to compare the myriad of contenders in between. “The Raid” has set a new standard for straight-up, unhindered action films in the new millennium.