Gareth Evans captures the nonstop action in The Raid with the talent of a veteran like John Woo.
The phrase “action packed” gets thrown around very liberally by film critics and marketing teams, usually as a way to hype a film which will inevitably be unable to live up to that moniker. The Raid: Redemption, however, is an action movie unlike any other. It is, in fact, filled with so much fighting, violence, and shootouts that any description other than “action packed” would be underselling an exhilarating experience at the movies.
Written and directed by Gareth Evans, The Raid: Redemption is a showcase for both an impressively competent and confident filmmaker and a bafflingly fast martial art known as silat. Though it is considered the equivalent of the national sport of Indonesia (where The Raid takes place), silat is relatively unknown to the rest of the world.
In the film, we follow a team of police officers who have been chosen to infiltrate a dilapidated apartment building in order to take down a crime boss whom most consider untouchable. Early in the film, we see Rama (Iko Uwais) during his morning ritual: meditating, stretching, and unleashing a fury of rapid-speed blows to an unlucky heavy bag. Before he embarks on what is almost assuredly the most dangerous mission of his career, he kisses his pregnant wife goodbye, promising he will be back.
Rama and the other men arrive at the building early in the morning and are told their only goal is to take down Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the crime boss who has insulated himself within a maze of drug dealers, criminals, and psychopaths. As the SWAT team begins to ascend the building floor by floor, the mission goes well until one of Tama’s spotters sets off an alarm that alerts every inhabitant to the police’s presence. Tama then announces over a PA system that the “unwelcome guests” should be disposed of immediately. Rama and the other men then find themselves trapped, unable to escape the building, and blocked in every direction from reaching Tama.
Though Evans has only two prior films to his name, he captures the nonstop action in The Raid with the talent of a veteran like John Woo. Critics of The Raid will claim that the film’s weak story and shallow characters don’t pass muster when it comes to genuine filmmaking, but that argument fails. The Raid is not The Bourne Identity or Casino Royale. We don’t need to know the characters’ backstories or how Tama came to be in a position of such power. By using cinematic archetypes (the crime lord, the hero, the shady cop), Evans doesn’t waste time with exposition, instead throwing the audience head-on into a martial arts extravaganza that puts Bruce Lee to shame.
Evans’ fight choreographers are actually two of the film’s stars, Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who plays Tama’s right hand man, Mad Dog. Working very closely with these two silat masters, Evans has created a genre masterpiece; films like Hard Boiled and La Femme Nikita look amateurish in comparison. Uwais and Ruhian push the limits of physical ability throughout the film, orchestrating fights that last five or six minutes. The experience is almost as exhausting for the audience as it is for the actors themselves. Evans films the fights with very little editing, instead allowing the camera to capture each and every kick, punch, and body slam. The fighters in the film take beatings no human could withstand, but since they aren’t fully drawn characters (by Evans’ design), they can take such an obscene amount of violence and still walk away.
The Raid: Redemption is the most exciting, adrenaline-filled movie of the last 20 years (maybe even longer). It has raised the bar for both martial arts films and action films in general. Few filmmakers will be able to match Evans’ symphony of broken bones, but you can bet there will be many who will try. | Matthew F. Newlin