Good action seems to be hard to find these days. What I’m subjected to on a regular basis is typically a poor excuse for what passes as action lately – shit blowing up for no reason and special effects running wild killing mass quantities of faceless and nameless victims that I’m never given a reason to care about. It all starts to blend together after awhile, so, when something truly phenomenal shoves its way to the forefront, you take notice. Needless to say, you’ll be paying attention to THE RAID: REDEMPTION. If not, it’ll slam your head repeatedly into a wall until you do.
I had been hearing fantastic things about the film since it premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “The best action movie in years” seemed to be the consensus, which only raised the bar of expectations to pretty lofty heights. How could a movie being mentioned in the same breath as greatness like DIE HARD possibly live up to the hype? That’s pretty simple – by presenting something exciting, something exhilarating, and something that doesn’t feel like a chore to watch for once. THE RAID: REDEMPTION offers up a simple plot, infuses it with energy and intensity and just lets it rip for an hour and 40 minutes.
Here’s the basic rundown of it… the merciless drug lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) has set up shop in a high-rise apartment building in the middle of Jakarta. For a decade, it’s been a no-police zone, with anyone high enough up on the law enforcement food chain having been paid off to ignore it. He may be the premiere resident of the building, but, over the years, Riyadi has been renting out apartments to any seedy motherfucker of the criminal world looking for a place to stay. Today is the day his building is going to be raided and his operation taken down, but, in addition to dealing with him, his right-hand man Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and his wildest henchman accurately called Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), the SWAT team is going to have to go floor by floor, attempting to take the building and everyone in it until they get their man.
Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie member of the SWAT team, is at the center of most of the film, but THE RAID: REDEMPTION has far too much action going on for it to be pinned to one actor. Director Gareth Evans is the real star of the movie, masterfully creating thrilling set piece after set piece in this rundown tenement, with real stakes for the heroes – kill or be killed.
It’d be easy for a movie with such a heavy amount of martial arts and gunplay to get dull and repetitive after awhile, but Evans, with the help of Uwais and Ruhian (who also serve as fight coordinators), manages to make every physical encounter feel fresh, paced beautifully to Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese’s score to take full advantage of the adrenaline rush you get every time no bad guys arrive on the scene ready to throw down.
Evans and cinematographer Matt Flannery make tremendous use of the space, avoiding the pratfalls many filmmakers get trapped into when doing action right now. Everyone wants to try to make the action look cool, forgetting the simple fact that action looks cool already. There’s no need to incorporate the shaky cam style or zoom in on the participants so closely that it makes it rather impossible to not only see who’s winning a fight but who’s involved. Evans instead uses a lot of wide shots, which may be less visually interesting, but serves the purpose of showcasing the action far more effectively. Whether it’s a tight hallway or a shithole unit in the building, the fighting is allowed to be beautiful in its own right, not ruined with attempts at overstylization. Sometimes less is indeed more, and THE RAID: REDEMPTION proves it.
There’s enough to the heroes to root for their success while fearing for their lives, and the villains are a pleasure to watch in all of their deviousness. Riyadi and Mad Dog, in particular, are characters so vile you almost can’t help but gravitate towards them, if not for being given good guys you can actually care about. It’s always more fun to watch the bad guys at work, and here you get the sense Sahetapy and Ruhian are having a blast playing them. Mad Dog loves to fight, and we come to love watching him do it.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION is a tremendous action flick, and it’s certainly not jumping on the bandwagon to call it one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen. The film backs up such a statement emphatically by kicking your ass relentlessly throughout its duration. Plus, how can you knock any movie that features its own machete gang? Don’t waste your time with one of these big budget, special effects-driven “blockbusters” that insult your intelligence by proclaiming you’ll be witnessing an action-packed experience. THE RAID: REDEMPTION doesn’t make those promises. It just lets its action speak louder than such words.
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