'The Raid: Redemption' Review
So, first of all, I have to be honest with you guys. I went to see The Raid: Redemption (which from here on out I’m only going to refer to as ‘The Raid’ because the ‘Redemption’ bit was tacked on for the American release, and it’s not even about redemption, but you know, whatever) on my birthday at a midnight screening, after some friends had taken me out for drinks. What this means is, I wasn’t exactly sober while watching The Raid, not to mention the fact that when I got there, the only remaining seats were in the front row. To me, The Raid was a dizzying series of images, as fists, blades, and bullets poured by in a torrent, inches from my drunken face. All that said: It was TOTALLY F*CKING AWESOME. (I know this isn’t the most professional review, but hey I already admitted to being kinda drunk while watching the movie, so sue me.)
Honestly, the only reason I’m fine with reviewing a film I saw while inebriated is that The Raid seems perfectly designed for that kind of viewing. It’s a movie meant to be watched while having a few beers with friends, yelling at the screen, and then pretending you know martial arts for hours afterwards. It has a grim, grey color palate which somehow doesn’t detract from the glorious fun of its frenzied fight scenes, but rather immerses you further in this awesome world of Indonesian urban kickassery.
The Raid is the second collaboration between action star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans, and its premise is beautifully simple: In the city exists a building that houses hundreds of criminals, overseen by crimelord Tama, and is strictly off limits to the cops. However, an elite squad of officers, including rookie Rama, makes an effort to infiltrate the building. It goes well until they are spotted; Tama locks the building down, declaring open season on the squad. From there, it’s a simple fight to escape the building, as every criminal in the place makes a go at our heroes. Fortunately for Rama, he kicks ungodly amounts of ass.
The Raid, however, is not a movie about the story, which is primarily an excuse to string together super-cool action sequences. Despite being mostly a vessel for cool fights, though, it does manage to drop in a few interesting twists along the way, which only serves to make the fights even cooler, because we know the stakes. For instance, we know that Rama has a pregant wife at home, so for him, getting out of this building is everything. All of the bits of backstory are simple, effective, and unobtrusive, giving Rama not only the ability to fight, but a reason.
And fight he does. Using everything from guns and blades to their fists, Rama and his squad battle their way through hundreds of goons in shockingly brutal fashion. The Raid is definitely not a movie for the faint of heart, pulling no punches in its depictions of gunshots, broken bones, and stab wounds — oh so many stab wounds. Iko Kawais not only plays Rama, but was also the fight choreographer for the film, and what really stands out about his style is how mind-numbingly fast it is. In my, erm, less than sober state, there were a few moments where I almost couldn’t even see him lash out — just a blur followed by dead guys on the floor. The action is quick, but what makes it work is that you still feel each hit as Rama battles his way through room after room of baddies.
Another thing that The Raid does quite well is suspense. In one early sequence where Rama and another cop are hiding in the wall, the whole audience was squirming in their seats, afraid (but secretly hoping) that violence was going to erupt at any moment. And erupt it does, often and convincingly. The camera work in The Raid is exactly how camera work in a martial arts film should be, getting close enough to the action that you feel a part of it, while never getting so close that you can’t tell what’s going on. Every now and then it got a little muddled, making it hard to tell who was who and where they were going, but the storytelling was simple and effective enough that the confusion never lasted for two long.
Let’s talk about the score. I don’t know what the original Indonesian score was like, but the American one was done by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, which meant that I went into the film predisposed to dislike it, not being the biggest fan of said Park. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Shinoda’s score is moody, intense, and atmospheric, never falling into the excesses I expected. Even during the fight scenes, the score feels less like it’s trying to be badass background music, and more like it wants to be evocative of the location and events, which I greatly appreciated.
But you probably want to hear more about the fight scenes. One in particular stuck out to me, which I will attempt to communicate my enthusiasm for without spoiling it. It’s a knockdown, drag-out two-on-one duel against the Mad Dog, Tama’s right-hand man and assassin, who kicks copious amounts of ass throughout the film. This fight is probably six or so minutes long, but never feels repetitive, with each new move a further revelation of the combatant’s skill. And the way it ends.... well, like I said, I’m not gonna ruin it for you guys, but I will say that it caused my entire theater to erupt into uproarious cheers and applause.
In fact, my audience was cheering throughout the film, and that’s one of The Raid’s greatest strengths: it’s an audience film. It’s meant to be watched with friends, or like-minded individuals, so that you can all delight in its gruesome, exhilarating excesses together, yelling ‘F*ck yeah!’ every time Rama executes a particularly brutal takedown.
Is The Raid the greatest movie ever? No, of course not. But as far as action films go, it’s exactly what you want without ever feeling the need to attempt being anything more. The Raid knows what it is, and what it is is one of the coolest action flicks I’ve ever seen, sure to please fans of Die Hard and Drunken Master alike. Go see it, and if you want, have a beer first. It certainly doesn’t hurt.