Relentless, brutal, and unapologetic. These are three words that perfectly describe writer and director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action picture “The Raid: Redemption”. This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart. It’s a bloody ballet filled with kicks, punches, broken bones, blades, and bullets. The action is furious and non-stop and Evans makes no bones about the type of movie he’s making. It’s heart-pounding and occasionally thrilling, but don’t expect much in terms of plot or character development.
When it comes to its story, “The Raid: Redemption” is about as simple as it gets. An expectant father named Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie member of an elite SWAT team who are sent out on a deadly mission to capture an evil drug lord named Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). Tama operates out of the top floor of an old rundown apartment building. When the SWAT team infiltrates the building, they quickly discover they’re in over their heads. Sealed in from the outside and up against waves of Tami’s killers, the team has to fight their way from one floor to the next trying to make it out alive. I actually stretched the synopsis out longer than necessary. This is really just a concoction to set the stage for a series of intense and quite honestly impressive fight sequences. The story does throw a couple of curve balls to try to make the plot a little more interesting, but in the end it’s not the story that you’ll be talking about.
Now to be fair, Evans doesn’t intend to create a deep, thought-provoking, narrative. That is a straight-forward, in your face, action picture and the action doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I would go as far as to say that “The Raid: Redemption” features some of the most intense “WOW”-inducing fight scenes you’ll find. The movie is a steady mix of gritty gun play and 80’s-styled chopsocky kung fu. What separates the film from so many other action romps is the slick style in which it’s filmed. Evans uses some fantastic camera tricks to give the scenes a stimulating and unique look. I was also amazed at the way he was able to make the action so clear and vivid within the confined spaces of small rooms, narrow hallways, and congested stairwells.
But perhaps my biggest praise is with the way Evans stayed away from so many of the modern action movie conventions that we’ve seen over and over. I’m mainly speaking of the ridiculously overused herky-jerky handheld cameras and frantic editing that so many filmmakers employ to give their action scenes a feel of “chaos”. Here, Evans is much more about letting us clearly visualize the incredible stunt work, fight choreography, and special effects. That’s what gives this movie a more genuine sense of chaos and intensity than other films. It also helps that the movie features some amazing martial artists led by Iko Uwais. Often times the camera will just pull back and we’re allowed to watched these guys show off their skills. Gimmicks aren’t needed. These guys are truly amazing and when they start swinging and kicking you can’t take your eyes off of them.
As I’ve mentioned, “The Raid: Redemption” is a hyper-violent film and it doesn’t shy away from the blood. Throats are slit, necks are broken, and bullets rip through people throughout. But at the risk of sounding completely contradictory, the violence doesn’t come across as overly gratuitous. In many instances these are realistic depictions of violence and while the movie shows it, rarely does the camera linger on it. There are also several moments where the camera turns away at just the right time to make you cringe but without showing you what you know has happened. There’s plenty of blood but it’s presented in a way that makes it much more than a graphic gore-fest.
The idea behind “The Raid: Redemption” is a good one especially for those intrigued by fast-paced, video game styled action. The concept of a group of men trapped in huge apartment building filled with baddies is exciting and there is a genuine tension that flows throughout the film from the moment the SWAT team realizes they’re trapped until the final scene. Unfortunately at the end all I could reflect back on was the incredible action involving underdeveloped characters that I knew almost nothing about. The movie puts all it’s eggs in one basket and it works really well in that one area. But storywise it suffers. While the film does try to toss in a few bits of drama here and there, they do nothing to help this movie which is fun, kinetic, but ultimately brainless escapism. But is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.