The Raid: Redemption (***)

An action film for those who think the modern action film is too talky, ‘The Raid: Redemption’ is almost one long and sustained action sequence stretched out to feature length. The editing and pacing are terrific, and those who want intensity in their fight scenes will be thrilled, but if you’re looking for anything deeper or a story of any note, keep looking, as this isn’t the flick for you. Writer/Director/Editor Gareth Evans wants to keep you on the edge of your seat as an elite group of cops battle untold amounts of criminals in a tenement in order to get to the boss…I mean bad guy. This is essentially a video game made into a movie, but it’s the rare occasion that this is meant more as a compliment than as an insult. It’s all about excitement and fights, not characters or story. For some, this will be a real issue, while for others it won’t be one at all. I’m somewhere in between, but my problems with the movie are lightened considerably by how well done this all is. Evans is a filmmaker you need to keep your eye on, because he’s got as much talent as any young filmmaker out there. His creativity is what makes this arguably the best and most satisfying action film to hit theaters in some time. The premise itself isn’t much to write home about, though the manner in which it’s done certainly is.

The little bit of a story that there is centers on a rookie cop named Rama (Iko Uwais) and the SWAT team he’s a part of making an assault on a tenement building owned by a rather ruthless mob boss named Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and filled with tons of assorted killers. The cops are tasked with taking down the boss, but almost instantly they find themselves outgunned and outnumbered. Their ranks are thinned quickly and soon Rama finds himself separated from his superior officers and assumed dead. Tama not only has the residents of the building going after the cops, but his two right hand men as well. One is the appropriately named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), and the other is the Andi (Doni Alamsyah), the brains of the operation…as well as Rama’s estranged brother. Rama, trapped and constantly having to showcase some incredible fighting skills to stay alive, has a number of reasons to not succumb to the overwhelming odds. For one thing, he has a pregnant wife at home, so he’s fueled not just to do his job (and later to try and bring his brother home) out of honor, but also to survive himself and keep the budding family intact. Most of this is just an excuse for one action scene after another, but they’re so exciting and well done that the story is pretty much enough for the craziness to come.

I wouldn’t say that the acting here is anything special in terms of the dramatic performances, but the stunt work (seemingly done by all of the characters themselves) is rather top notch and worth a mention. Iko Uwais is really the only one with a background to his character, and he’s fine as an actor, but his fighting is truly amazing. He’s like a video game character come to life, and I mean that in the best way possible. A climatic fight involving him, Yayan Ruhian, and Doni Alamsyah is a real highlight. As for Ray Sahetapy, he chews the scenery a lot, but then again, he’s a bad guy in an action film, so that kind of comes with the territory. Supporting work in the film also comes from Pierre Gruno as the senior cop who actually orders the doomed raid and Joe Taslim as the Sergeant trying to keep his men alive while questioning his orders. The real performance to take note of though, is of course the stunts, as mentioned above.

Gareth Evans does some terrific directing and editing here, even if his script isn’t really anything special. He pulls out all the stops to make the action scenes feel unique, intense, and edits them to maximize those techniques. The talent at work in his film on the part of Evans is really worth the price of admission alone. He keeps the film feeling kinetic and enthralling, even if once or twice things threaten to get monotonous. He avoids making a tease of an action flick and instead makes one that actually delivers on its promises. The fights are well choreographed, brutal, and go on for more than a few seconds at a time. I’m not lying when I say that about 75 minutes of the 101 minute runtime is dedicated to fights. The middle of the movie especially is essentially one giant sequence with tiny breaks. His screenplay is pretty stock, but when the visuals are this good, you really don’t mind that much that the story is basic and the characters are ones you’ve seen in other movies before. Evans knows where to concentrate and he knocks it out of the park there instead. He’s also got a very catchy soundtrack working in his favor, so the ingredients are all there for him to hook you, and hook you he does.

‘The Raid: Redemption’ isn’t perfect (the title isn’t a good one, for example, and the flick suffers when the characters stop to talk), and it’s not for everyone, but if the thought of a pretty relentless action movie appeals to you, then this is pretty much a film sent from the heavens for you to enjoy. I’m not as over the moon for it as I know some of my colleagues are, but I won’t argue that few films so far in 2012 have been this purely entertaining (and certainly no action flicks) and effective at what they set out to do. Between the action scenes, the talent on display from Gareth Evans, and the overall effectiveness of the film, this is an easy one for me to recommend. Unless the thought of action turns you off, this Indonesian flick should have your name written all over it!

Thoughts? Discuss on the Forum!