Anyone upset that the movies have been lacking in balls-to-the-wall R-rated action of late can take solace in the fact that The Raid: Redemption has arrived. This Indonesian action export instantly qualifies as a cult classic for cramming more bone crunching action into 90 minutes of mayhem than ever seemed possible. This is one of those movies where the action occasionally stops for the plot and not vice versa. It’s as if writer/director Gareth Evans took all the best scenes out of Die Hard, Assault On Precinct 13, and Ong-Bak shoved them into a blender, added a gallon of fake blood, and injected it all into his heart through an adrenaline needle before writing the screenplay. That might sound like a ridiculous superlative, and it is, but the movie lives up to it. Depending on your disposition, you’ll probably need to either take a nap or run a marathon after a screening, but either way you’ll be anxious to see it again immediately.
Like all great action movies, the story is as simple as possible. There’s a high-rise in Indonesia run by the local drug n’ crime lord Tama (Ray Saheptay). A SWAT team is sent into as a special surprise to try and take him down, featuring everyone’s favorite brand of whippersnapper action hero, the young idealistic cop who still believes in justice on a corrupt police force (Iko Uwais). Of course, Tama sits upon his rusty throne with a series of security camera monitors on every floor and quickly realizes what’s up. He offers a lifetime of free rent to anyone in the building who brings him the body of a cop, and since a building run by a drug lord doesn’t typically house nuns and school teachers, there are plenty of takers. From there the madness begins, structured almost like a video game which each floor needing to be conquered and the final boss waiting up top. The action kicks of almost instantly and doesn’t let up for a second, even when it seems like the filmmakers and fight choreographers couldn’t possibly top themselves.
Gareth Evans might not be a name you recognize now, but if he can match the sheer intensity of The Raid in even one more film, he’s going to be a beloved action director for years to come. The 31-year-old Brit moved to Indonesia a few years ago, quickly discovered the local Silat fighting style and became enamored with its unique combination of smooth, stylized movement and harsh physical impact. He made his first Indonesian movie in 2009 called Merantau, which was strong if a slightly more conventional martial arts flick. While it was an effective big screen debut for Evans, Silat, and his young star/choreographer Iko Uwais, The Raid takes everything the team learned on Merantau and combines it with the claustrophobic intensity, suspense, and nihilism of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 and the ever-escalating action and high-rise setting of Die Hard. In the world of action movie fans, drawing comparisons to those two classics is a big statement, but Evans delivers an experience more than worthy of the link.
It’s hard to pick any particular action scene as a standout, because the entire film is practically one extended set piece. There are shootouts and machete fights that drop plenty of entrails on the ground for the gore hounds. The movie definitely has the edge of an R-rated 80s action flick that scoffs at the idea of fluffy feelings and happy endings. Martial arts fanatics will also have plenty to hoot n’ holler about with plenty of brain-meltingly well choreographed fights including a climatic 2-on-1 Silat showdown that is one for the ages. It’s one of those fights that begins with a little guy dropping his weapon because he knows he’s dangerous enough with just his fists and whenever that happens, you know it’s time to clear some space on the floor for your jaw. Throw in a couple of insane stunt scenes (including one amazing back-breaking fall too good to spoil hear) along with some equally acrobatic cinematography that constantly finds new and exciting ways to show the cast beating the crap out of each other, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a night at the movies.
The Raid is a film that invites nothing but praise. Gareth Evans knows exactly what type of movie he’s making and gives that specific audience them exactly what they want. There’s no superfluous love interest and no unnecessary pretensions. There’s just enough of a story to keep the audience engaged normatively with some familial reveals and a light commentary on political corruption to give the movie something resembling a message. But the rest of the time, it’s sheer action insanity that never pulls a punch. Evans is apparently already at work on a sequel, an action epic that he planned to make before The Raid, but wasn’t able to gather enough money so he deliberately catered this movie to the scale he could afford. Necessity is the mother of invention and that’s especially true in filmmaking, so hopefully when Evans comes back with a sequel on a scale just grand enough to let him get away with whatever he wants, it won’t be a lesser project. The streamlined, waste-free approach of The Raid is part of what makes it so effective and if he can repeat the trick again on part 2, the man will have himself a devoted cult following for a lifetime. Provided you don’t have an aversion to onscreen violence (in which case I doubt you made it this far into the review), The Raid is not to be missed.