Film Review – The Raid: Redemption
A young man wakes up early in the morning. He gets up, works out, gets dressed, and then walks over to his bed where his pregnant wife is laying peacefully. The man leans over and kisses her before he walks out of the door. This is all the introduction we need before Gareth Evans’s Indonesian film, The Raid: Redemption (2011), explodes in an all-out action assault on our senses. I knew exactly what I was in for when I walked into the theater to watch this film: relentless gunplay and martial arts, with barely any time for us as the audience to stop and take a breath. But little did I know just how turned up the intensity would be. The sheer kineticism and physicality shown on screen rises and rises, and when we think the end is near, pushes beyond that line in brutal and violent fashion. In terms of choreography and stunt work alone, this is one of the more creative and well-made action films I’ve seen in a long time.
All of which got me thinking: is action alone enough to make a successful film? I’ve read a number of reviews that have described the film as bordering on the sense of a high-end video game, and I would say that the comparison can be drawn. The film involves a group of police soldiers raiding a dangerous tenement filled with gangsters, drug dealers, and killers, with a near psychopathic mob boss seated on the top floor, seeing all through a number of monitors displayed on his wall. That is all the set-up we need, as we watch the heavily armed officers make their way up each escalating floor like gamers moving up each ascending level. Of course the soldiers would be heavily outnumbered by the criminals, and of course they would find themselves trapped inside the building with no reinforcements coming their way; those types of plot turns are more than common in an action film such as this. If you’re looking for a film that focuses on character development and subtle insights into human nature, this is not the film for you.
But what the film lacks in character it more than makes up for in what it was advertised to do, and that is to provide a thrilling non-stop ride of mayhem and excitement. Oh, how good the action is! It has been a long time since I’ve had such a reaction to watching an action film. I felt glued to screen, on the edge of my seat, my heart pumping to see what happened next. After the film was over I felt physically drained, as if I had not just watched a movie but participated in an experience. Scenes were put together as if on an adrenaline trip, and while the premise of the movie does feel like a video game (complete with “bosses” at the end of each level), none of the shootouts or fight scenes felt repetitive. That is the true accomplishment that the film makes—despite the fact that it rarely stops with the violence, each moment feels uniquely its own from the rest. Nearly each gunshot, pratfall, and knife stab has such a creative execution that it creates a kind of brutal magnificence, never settling for an easy way out and always reaching for scene after scene of memorable moments.
The lead actor of the film, Iko Uwais, who plays the police officer Rama, is a person who I hope will become the next international action superstar. Complete with a baby face, we are almost taken by surprise at how great of a physical athlete this man is. He jumps and dives and shoots and fights from the beginning of the film to the very end, never letting up until he accomplishes his mission and gets the hell out of there. His fight scenes are gruesome and bloody, but are so well created that I can’t help but be impressed by them. The shaky-cam cinematography hinders much of what we see, but not enough to make the scenes incoherent. The fight scenes reach a level similar to that of a dance; the only difference is that Rama’s dancing partners here are usually wielding a knife, ready to plunge it into his neck. The choreography is gritty and hard-edged, much different from the ballet-like fight scenes of other martial art films. Uwais’s screen presence feels immediate and steadfast. One of the biggest issues I have with modern action movies is seeing one person take on an entire army by themselves without any trouble. This film tiptoes that line and almost goes overboard, but stays believable within the context of its world, and much of that has to do with the performance of its lead.
There are so many moments that happen in the movie that I want to describe, but to do so would ruin the experience for you if you were to see it. This is the kind of movie that must be seen with an audience. The sheer visceral reaction of those in the theater I was in played a part in my overall enjoyment. People were hooting and hollering, wincing during brutal moments, clapping in moments of victory, and laughing amongst themselves over how the film jumped headfirst into its action. An amazing thing happened while we were all watching it. As our hero stepped up and battled one of the remaining villains of the film, the cheering and rooting on from the crowd rose as the battle built to a crescendo, as if they were there in the scene egging the protagonist on to victory. It is rare to see an audience as engaged as the one I was in, but that goes to show how well the movie did precisely what it wanted to do.
Would The Raid: Redemption have benefited from a bit more focus on character development? Possibly. Would it have been better if there were a bit more backstory laid out? Maybe. But on a basic level of exhilaration and combat, there are few films made today that would be on par with it. Sure, this isn’t the kind of thing that is made for everyone. This is certainly not the place to go if you’re looking for a quiet, pleasant time at the cinema. Not everybody will like the brutality and the unyielding graphic nature of the content, and that’s completely fine. The only thing I can say is that I believe the people that walk in to see this film are already the kind of people who would enjoy it, and I’m sure many of them will walk out feeling more than satisfied. If you enjoy relentless fights and shootouts, imaginative kills and high-octane suspense, then you will find this to be one of the best movies of the year.
Final Grade: A