I missed it in theatres, but after watching it recently on DVD, I can safely say that for all out, balls-to-the-wall action, no movie I’ve seen this year or last has come close to matching The Raid: Redemption. True, when it comes to story and character development, this thing is about as vacant as the main street of a small southern town during a high school football game. But, if you can get over that, you’re in for a treat.
As we begin, the story (such as it is) is meted out in one hefty chunk by Jaka (Joe Taslim), the leader of a SWAT team making its way through the slums of Jakarta. For our benefit, he reiterates the situation to his team: a drug lord named Tama (Ray Sahetapy) has taken over a tenement and is using it as a base of operations to make and sell dope. He’s guarded by dozens of henchmen, including his lieutenants Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) – the former being the brains and the latter the brawn. Oh, also there’s a rookie SWAT officer, Rama (Iko Uwais), who’s trying to rescue someone from Tama’s clutches.
Introducing your movie this way (that is to say, almost entirely through exposition) is either lazy or economical, depending on who you ask. But before you can delve too deeply into that debate, what starts out as a stealth mission quickly goes sideways and the bullets, fists, and feet are soon flying.
If you’re going to all but abandon story and character, you’d better have damn good action. And thankfully, The Raid delivers that in spades. It’s an incredible showcase for the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat. The fight scenes are really well choreographed, and, just as importantly, they’re nicely shot. Director Gareth Evans doesn’t cut every three seconds like you see in a lot of action movies, and he sets the camera just far back enough to allow us to see everything. He also has a knack for creative camera angles. The action is both fluid and very hard-hitting, and the fights build up in a nice way, leading to the inevitable showstopper with the head bad guys.
All that said, there are a few drawbacks. While I generally liked the rhythm of the editing, sometimes I wished for even longer takes. I would’ve loved seeing something akin to the insane restaurant fight from The Protector, or even Oh Dae-su’s hallway brawl in Oldboy – anything to change the pace a little bit. As it stands, the fights tend to blend together, to the point where as I write this only a few days after watching the movie, much of it is kind of a blur.
I’ve pretty much entirely dismissed talking about the characters in The Raid, but I do want to return to Mad Dog for a moment. He’s really the most interesting character in the film, and it’s because he’s virtually the only one whose thought processes and personality are explored in any kind of detail. He has a great line about the difference between shooting someone and beating them to death. It’s funny and disturbing and it reveals something about the depths of his malevolent mind. I wish there’d been more of that with some of the other characters.
The movie also deserves a little praise for not simply being “bad guys vs. good guys” the entire time. A number of the characters blur that line at different points. But these little side trips into moral ambiguity are pretty perfunctory. They mostly wind up feeling like excuses to extend the film’s running time. To be fair, they do serve to break up what would otherwise be nonstop action. I just wish they had been handled a bit more subtly.
This is the kind of movie I enjoy less and less as I break it down. As soon as you start overanalyzing it, things start falling apart. Ultimately though, it’s just trying to be a fun, cool, thrill ride. And it is, so check it out.