The Raid: Redemption (2012)
Sony Pictures Classics, R, 101 minutes
U.S. Release: 23 March 2012 (limited)
The Indonesian action movie The Raid (subtitled Redemption in its U.S. release to avoid conflicting with an older film) is a movie that I have been anticipating since the trailer and reviews from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival were made public. The hype for “the best action movie in decades”, as the official poster proclaims the film, was immense. This both excited and worried me; I didn’t want to go into the film with overly-inflated expectations and leave disappointed as a result. Also, as someone who is only a casual fan of the action genre, I wasn’t entirely sure how to assess an Indonesian martial arts film.
The Raid is about a highly-trained squad of police officers raiding (duh) a high-rise building in the slums, ruled by a brutal drug lord. The cops are spotted by a lookout and have to fight their way up and through fifteen floors occupied by countless thugs under the protection of the drug lord. After the initial slaughter there are betrayals and reunions, but the focus stays on the fighting. As the body count rises and bullets run out, the action becomes almost exclusively bare-knuckle martial arts brawling.
If you see this movie looking for breathtaking action and fight choreography, you will not leave disappointed. Lead actor Iko Uwais, who was also one of the fight choreographers gives the stand-out performance of martial arts skills. The movie is full of clearly talented fighters, however, and all of the fights have a rampant energy. The action set pieces are great and the range of fighting styles and weapons in this film is impressive. The cinematography and lighting are very good and the camera doesn’t shy away from showing the violence. The action is punctuated by quieter but more suspenseful moments, but all in all this movie is about violence. A few of the individual fights dragged a little bit too much for my taste, but I was never bored.
I haven’t talked much about the story of The Raid because, quite frankly, there isn’t much of one. Beyond the initial premise and a few later twist there’s not much you can say about the plot. Most of the police team dies in the first half of the movie, and while the survivors get some characterization, I hesitate to describe it as development. Few of the villains are even named; if you stay for the credits you will see a lengthy cast list, most of whom have roles like “Mad Dog’s Man #1” or “Through the Hole Fighter #5”. However, the elite fighters on both sides have distinctive styles and can be remembered by that.
There are two reveals in this movie: one about an estranged pair of brothers and the other about the reason why the police were ordered to raid the building. The reveal about the brothers could be seen a mile away and the motive for the raid doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you think about it, but these are insignificant flaws. The Raid knows what it wants to be and it achieves that brilliantly. There are some truly shocking moments of violence and the energy throughout the film is infectious. The electronic musical score (co-composed by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park) complements the action but stays in the background until the end credits.
I give The Raid: Redemption four stars out of a possible five. This movie is not driven by plot nor character, but by a constant sense of energy from the fighting onscreen. If you’re squeamish about violence, you will probably not enjoy The Raid. On the other hand, if you enjoy action movies, you will probably love it. Some character development would have been nice, but this is still an intense and memorable action spectacle.