Raid, The: Redemption (Indonesia/United States, 2011)

April 07, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Raid, The: Redemption Poster

When it comes to The Raid: Redemption, there are no pretentions. Pure and simple, this is about violence. As we used to say, "kickin' ass and takin' names." The body count is ridiculously high. Not three-digit high, but getting close. Yet, because Welsh-born director Gareth Evans has an especially good understanding of how to choreograph and stage the fight scenes, this comes across as a viscerally enjoyable experience. Don't expect to be enlightened; The Raid: Redemption works on the same primal level that some of John Woo's pre-United States films occupied. It's all about taking violence and gore out of the realm of gritty realism and transforming them into something that's half-comic book and half-ballet. Evans' fight scenes are not as stylized as some, but they are long enough and bloody enough to satisfy even the most hard-core action aficionado.

The Raid: Redemption can almost be seen as a superhero movie, albeit one not designed for viewers under the age of about 15. There are good guys and bad guys and, with the exception of one conflicted character, there's not much in the way of shades of gray. It's evident from the beginning who fills the role of the hero and he goes about his business with superhuman strength, stamina, and agility, mowing down his adversaries at an alarming rate. In fact, pretty much everyone who gets in on the action comes from the Timex School of Badassery: they take a licking but keep on ticking. Yes, characters (good and bad) get their heads smashed into walls, their kidneys punched a couple dozen times, and their necks snapped back, then get up, dust themselves off and run up a flight of stairs. One guy keeps going with a jagged segment of a broken fluorescent tube sticking out of his neck.

The storyline is straightforward, as befits a movie that doesn't want to spend much time getting bogged down with deep character development or exposition. Our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), is a rookie cop who ends up on an unenviable mission: raid a fifteen-story apartment building that doubles as the fortress of crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the most notorious gangster in all of Indonesia. Rival gangs have attempted to get to Tama and failed, in part because he is protected by two fearsome bodyguards, Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), and in part because just about everyone living in the building is a criminal of some kind and it's in their best interests to keep Tama safe. Some tenants have guns, others have machetes. Also, inexplicably, there's one nice guy living there with a sick wife. He doesn't have knives, but he does confess to owning a spoon. The 20 cops engaging in the raid almost immediately find themselves outnumbered and outgunned. They stumble into the midst of a massacre and soon there are only a few of them left, including the grizzled veteran Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Rama. Jaka is straightforward but Rama has a secret: Andi, one of Tama's right-hand men, is his brother.

The fight scenes, which conservatively comprise about 75% of the running time, are long, violent, and varied. They are presented with uncommon clarity - no shaky cam or flash cutting. We have a clear view of every dodge and blow. The choreography is expert; it's as if every move was storyboarded and the actors (most of whom are obviously comfortable with martial arts of one kind or another) execute to perfection. Although there is some gunplay, the majority of the high-octane confrontations are hand-to-hand. Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) doesn't believe in shooting people. He wants to eliminate them in close quarters.

The Raid: Redemption is high on testosterone and adrenaline but limited when it comes to suspense. The storyline is too linear for there to be much in the way of sustained tension. The dialogue is sufficiently limited that subtitle-phobes need not fear. In fact, little would be lost from watching a non-subtitled copy (even if you don't understand Indonesian). For the most part, the characters talk with their hands, bodies, guns, machetes, knives, and other assorted equipment.

Enthusiastic international and U.S. reception for The Raid: Redemption has allowed Evans to move forward with two related projects. The first is a sequel featuring the (surviving) characters played by the original actors. The second is a big-budget Hollywood remake. Keeping in mind the delicious ways in which Martin Scorsese expanded upon Infernal Affairs for The Departed, it would be interesting to see what he could do with The Raid: Redemption, although there are plenty of other directors whose visions might be as enticing (including Evans).

The Raid: Redemption is not a particularly edgy or daring motion picture, but there's something refreshing about a movie that offers this kind of unapologetic balls-to-the-wall action. The PG-13-ification of the action genre has led to this niche of adult-oriented fare becoming an endangered species. I wouldn't want every movie to be like this - I appreciate well-developed characters and complex narratives (two things missing here) too much. But, as an occasional way to spice up a night at the movies, something as uncompromising and well-made as The Raid: Redemption is a welcome change-of-pace.

Raid, The: Redemption (Indonesia/United States, 2011)

Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 2012-03-23
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: In Indonesian with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1