After too many bloated Hollywood spectacles, the joltingly energetic The Raid: Redemption feels like an action film distilled to its essence. Plot, characterization and dialogue are merely the frame here for the real goods, an immersion into the Indonesian martial arts form known as silat. Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Huw Evans’s movie, which won the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, is one long adrenaline rush.
The film is a battle in a box, like Super Mario meets Saving Private Ryan in a story of an elite Indonesian police SWAT team that infiltrates a fiendishly well-defended criminal tenement hideout. Though the sequences of battlers knifing, shooting, strangling and banging out drum rolls on each other’s skulls are alarmingly believable (necks snap, blood flows), The Raid’s redemption is its cinematicprowess. The camerawork is acrobatic, the editing (also by Evans) is precise and propulsive, and the stunt choreography is peerless. And all for a puny budget of about $1.1-million.
The story consists of occasional short scenes of people talking before fighting again. There’s a good cop named Rama and a bad criminal named Tama, and many other cops and bad guys and a maze of stairwells and corridors where the fighting takes place. Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie cop who kisses his pregnant wife goodbye and heads off on a pre-dawn raid to overthrow a criminal kingpin, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who lives in the 15th-floor penthouse atop the tenement. How mean is Tama? We first meet him as he shoots a row of bound victims; when he runs out of bullets, he finishes the last one with a hammer.
Moments later, Tama is alerted that the police have arrived en masse, and he sits watching their entrance on close-circuit television. By the time they’ve reached the sixth floor, it becomes obvious to them they have entered a trap, set up as a payback scheme between corrupt politicians and gangsters. The criminals have the building wired with close-circuit television monitors and microphones, as well as child look-outs stationed on each floor.
As the police walk in, their ranks are decimated by a barrage of automatic weapons fire. The few survivors, who hide in corners or apartments, have only two options: Fight their way back down and escape, or fight their way to the top and take out the boss. Furious hand-to-hand fighting scenes are briefly relieved by interludes of desperate tension. At one point, Rama and a wounded colleague hide in a closet in a couple’s apartment. A gangster shoves in a machete close enough to slice Rama’s cheek, but he suppresses his cry and he barely manages to wipe the tell-tale blood off the blade before it’s withdrawn again.
Upping the ante is a diminutive, long-haired killer named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) with a penchant for breaking necks. The acrobatic Ruhian, who co-choreographed the fight scenes with Iko Uwais, is featured in the film’s two most elaborate set-piece battles: In one, Mad Dog fights a policeman (former Indonesian judo champion Joe Taslim), and in the other, assisted by his gangster brother, he takes on Rama.
The action is exhilaratingly well-choreographed and real enough to feel personally threatening. By the end of the film, you may involuntarily find your hands wandering up to your face, checking for missing teeth and broken cheekbones.
The Raid: Redemption
- Written and directed by Gareth Huw Evans
- Starring Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian
- Classification: 18A
- 3 stars