Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Theaters: THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2012)


Written and directed by Gareth Huw Evans.  Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Ray Sahetapy, Pierre Gruno, Yayan Ruhian.  (R, 100 mins)

A young Indonesian Muslim wakes, prays, does morning exercises, and gets ready to go to work.  He kisses his very pregnant wife and tells her to rest.  He's a police officer, and though he doesn't know it yet, he's embarking on the worst day of his life.

That serene opening sequence is the calmest moment in the explosive, balls-to-the-wall action epic THE RAID: REDEMPTION.  Directed by Indonesia-based Welshman Gareth Evans, who made his mark with 2009's cult item MERANTAU, THE RAID: REDEMPTION (the "Redemption" was added by US distributor Sony after THE RAID was already claimed) quickly sets up a story and then it's insanity unleashed.  The Muslim cop is Rama (Iko Uwais, one of several MERANTAU stars who also appear here), who's a member of an elite SWAT team dispatched by Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno, who looks like an Indonesian Malcolm McDowell) to raid the 30-story apartment building/stronghold of powerful crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy).  The cops have long given Tama unspoken clearance to run his operation, which involves a narcotics lab and providing sanctuary for the city's most wanted criminals, in addition to standard slum housing on the lower floors.  Rama is a dutiful officer, but questions why now and why today do the cops finally decide to arrest Tama.  They quickly secure the lower floors, but a child sees them and pulls the alarm, notifiying Tama, whose bunker is on the 15th floor, that the cops are in the building.  Tama dispatches his goons and those from neighboring buildings to get to work.  And so begins a day-long, multi-floor battle between cops and criminals, with guns, knives, machetes, hammers, and, when all else fails, fists and feet and whatever else is available, even a propane tank and a refrigerator to make an impromptu bomb.

Iko Uwais as Rama
While the "Best Action Movie in Decades!!!" line that the ads scream is a tad hyperbolic, THE RAID: REDEMPTION is quite a jawdropper.  Incredible choreography and fight sequences, expertly-designed and stunningly executed like none you've ever seen before.  Before the Silat martial arts skills of Uwait come into play, Evans does a marvelous job of conveying the danger and the claustrophobia of the situation, especially once the SWAT guys find out that Wahyu orchestrated this hit without telling any of his superiors, so no backup is on the way because no one knows they're there.  With the constant synth-based score by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, the early sequences in the film have the distinct feel of in-his-prime John Carpenter, reversing the frequent Carpenter motif of "evil trying to get in" to "good guys trying to get out."  But once Rama finds himself essentially alone, he--with some unexpected help--takes on Tama's men in an endless and breathtaking series of truly inventive fight sequences (of course, some things never change, as the bad guys still attack Rama--how else?--one at a time), Evans really succeeds in establishing himself as a uniquely styled action auteur.  I took a look at MERANTAU (currently streaming on Netflix) immediately after seeing this, and it has its share of crazy action sequences, but they come mostly after a talky first hour with a predictable plot.  MERANTAU is a slower but solid enough demonstration of his filmmaking talents (before relocating to Jakarta, Evans also made a 2006 British thriller titled FOOTSTEPS, but I haven't seen it) but Evans really makes a statement with THE RAID.  He also does a commendable job of using CGI blood in a way that's not cartoonish and distracting.  It's there, but it's used more subtly and mixed much more effectively with the Karo syrup for a CGI look that still has the appropriate level of...wetness, if you will.  And in a film as blood-drenched as this, that's important, so props to Evans for being one of the few filmmakers today who gets it and uses CGI blood the right way.

Drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) confronted by Lt. Wahyu
(Pierre Gruno as Indonesian Malcolm McDowell)

THE RAID: REDEMPTION is not just a martial-arts movie (it's also an instant classic in the "high-rise mayhem" subgenre), but it's the best martial-arts movie I've seen in quite some time.  Maybe not "DECADES!!!" but probably since the CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON-inspired wuxia craze of the early 2000s.  If you're a fan of this stuff, it's a virtual impossibility to be disappointed by this.

Original Indonesian poster before Sony
tacked on the REDEMPTION part of the title

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up.

    The Raid was a blast! Loved all the exciting fight sequences and mayhem.

    This is the best action movie of 2012 so far.