The Raid: Redemption Review
By Bret Dorman
There’s no soft-stepping around the issue, if you call yourself an action movie fan, or more specifically, a martial arts movie fan, you MUST go see The Raid: Redemption. To put it this way, as an action movie snob I am VERY picky about my action, more specifically, my martial arts. And not only was I entertained and impressed, I was annihilated. While Hollywood tries to soften things up and make four quadrant movies to appeal to as many people as possible (and is fantastic at it), The Raid: Redemption is for purists. We don’t have time for character development, story, plot, political or social subtext. We are fluent in movie cliches and shortcuts. From pregnant wives to make characters more sympathetic to “its the only thing I know how to do” dialogue, as long as the body count rises we are delighted to clap and laugh along. Think you’re up to the challenge of sitting in on The Raid: Redemption?
The Story: Rama (Iko Uwais) is just another extremely badass cop in a group of elite cops. They are assigned with entering the dungeon-like ‘hotel’-esque fortress to bring in its boss. But things go wrong and that means people die. Lots of people in lots of brutal ways. Also, it may happen to be subtitled (Indonesian film) whenever they aren’t punching someone in the face.
That’s literally all there is to the set up. Man is at home prepping to go to work as a cop. He says goodbye to his pregnant wife. Cut to: him in a SWAT van full of cops being told the mission. Cut to: The building they are about to raid. This is less than 10 minutes in. The rest is action.
Now I won’t pretend like the ENTIRE movie is non stop fight scenes. Yes there are some quieter parts, some false scares of a man walking down a hallway almost to where a character is hiding around the corner. Or characters talking about the shitty situation they are in. But unlike American movies of its kind, there’s no need to get into why we should care about these characters. No need to create false sympathies. I am reminded of Legion where more than half that movie is crappy one dimensional character having a conversation with another crappy one dimensional character. Most of that movie is talking about shit we don’t care about. Armageddon is about to happen. Let’s get to that!
The best way to create sympathy is to kill a character as brutally as possible. The moans and groans of watching faceless characters getting blasted away is shortly followed by laughter of exactly how brutal it is (relax… its only a movie…). Bad guys line up to get stabbed, shot, punched, slammed, and beaten down as we hope there are more around the corner. This movie is concerned with brutality and precision. And because it rarely ever cuts away from a death or wound inducing blow we cheer it on. We’re tired of this fake shaky cam close up Bourne (its unfair to pick solely on Bourne but it is the most popular of the trend) fighting. We want to see nice full shots of 5, 7, 12, 18 martial art beats as characters exchange punches, blocks, kicks, dodges, knee drivings, elbow jabbings, limb grabbing, and body tossing. Knives are dangerous weapons used to inflict major damage quickly and the only thing more brutal than a guy getting 10+ bullets fired into him at long distance is a guy getting 10+ bullets fred into him at point blank range.
The choreography is never meant to be filler or dull. Sure there are minor lulls in between the action, but the action itself will ratchet the intensity right up to 10 and then keeps it going from there. Too many times in a crappy action movie do I see a ‘throwaway’ moment of a guy killing off a henchmen or two that is neither exciting nor stylish. Here the main character will start off fighting one bad guy then a swarm approaches as he struggles to keep up. When one baddie falls wounded or dead the rest are still on the attack. This movie isn’t happy with just a 30 second punch-dodge-punch-dodge ‘oh I accidentally killed you’ corny one-liner scene. Its only content when at least 5 SOLID minutes of lightning paced martial arts blows are exchanged and at least 4 baddies are intentionally destroyed.
I will say that I could have used a bit more character cool-ness. Everyone is a bit generic in their presentation. Every cop looks the same except for one. While some of the ‘gangs’ have their differences they are all basically the same dirty shirted scum bags. Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and
Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) are cool but have no ‘gimmick’. Tama (Ray Sahetapy) makes a great creepy boss and I would love to have seen him delve more into the sliminess. The way he delivers the line “And please, enjoy yourselves…” (And youlaloupnow… Berrrrrrsenoooouuuhhhh-senoooouuuhhhh……(spelling might be a tad off on that…?)) is an instant Midnight Movie classic cue for the audience to cheer and get ready for the upcoming carnage.
But these complaints are minor when you witness the choreography. The final fight scene is absolutely insanely brutally flawless. Even though you can look at it and say “well its all planned and rehearsed and shot take after take” its still impressive to see how much they could consistently push themselves and how for a 1 hour and 40 minute action movie the fighting never gets stale. Mad Dog is a fucking beast and even though he doesn’t have much of a character his relentless attacks make him more than memorable.
The Raid: Redemption starts off a tad bit slower, letting the paranoia and hopeless of the situation envelope the overall mood. It is as if a John Carpenter film (specifically the close quarters ‘no where to run’ vibe of Assault on Precinct 13) had a baby with an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick (specifically the first Commando attack in Predator). Once the action really kicks up writer/director Gareth Evans knows he can’t rely on that slow tension alone. So we get action scenes as if Ong-Bak and Freddy Vs Jason had a baby. Then the Carpenter/Schwarzenegger and Tony Jaa/Freddy&Jason baby start beating the shit out of each other. And everybody wins.
In Conclusion, you know that saying ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’? Well The Raid: Redemption says “Fuck eggs.” and grabs a hand full of grenades, throws them in a basket, then shoves it down your throat and for us hardcore action fans… when it explodes we erupt with giddiness and glee as the body count rises with each floor these elite cops climb to get the bad guy.
Final Grade: A