Raid, The: Redemption

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 03/23/12 09:00:00

"Pure action nirvana."
5 stars (Awesome)

Action fans, rejoice. The first great action film of 2012 has arrived. As much as that sounds like hyperbole, it’s not. And it wasn't produced by a Hollywood studio. It doesn't feature American or English-speaking actors, it’s not dubbed, and subtitles are a must. The action film in question, "The Raid: Redemption" (released everywhere else as "The Raid" “Serbuan maut”) takes a premise that’s one part "Die Hard" and one part "Assault on Precinct 13" (a SWAT-like strike force’s assault on a crimelord's safe house, a heavily fortified tenement building in the slums of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta), and within minutes, becomes the purest example of action cinema (not to mention action nirvana), courtesy of Welsh transplant Gareth Edwards (who wrote, directed, and edited), and Iko Uwais, a martial arts practitioner, fight choreographer, and after "The Raid: Redemption" receives a stateside and international release, a bona-fide action-star.

When we first meet Uwais’ character, Rama, a junior member of the aforementioned elite, SWAT-like strike force, it’s not yet dawn, but Rama is already awake and fully alert, single-mindedly focusing on his early morning routine: stretching, calisthenics, exercise, and in what might be a surprise to some moviegoers, praying. Rama is a Muslim (as are most Indonesians), but his religious beliefs don’t play a significant or even minor part in The Raid: Redemption, but they still mark Rama as a different kind of action-hero, if only superficially. Before he leaves, Rama says good-bye to his pregnant wife and his father. We don’t return to them, except in flashback, but both, in their way, provide Rama with the motivation necessary to survive the day.

Rama’s superior, Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) instructs Rama to remain in the rear when they begin their assault on the heavily fortified, seemingly impregnable fifteen-story tenement building and the current residence of Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy), a vicious drug lord. Along with his right-hand man, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), his left-hand enforcer, “Mad Dog” (co-choreographer Yayan Ruhian), and a veritable army of thugs, killers, and other cutthroats, Tama rules the tenement building and presumably the surrounding slum with a bloodied fist. Evans introduces Tama in his penthouse suite, seconds before he cold bloodedly executes several men, rivals or traitors (real or presumed), saving the worst, most brutal, violent fate for the last, unlucky man.

Initially, the assault follows protocol. Led by Jaka and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), the senior officer who ordered the raid, the strike team breaches the tenement building’s outer defenses. A spotter, however, sounds the alarm, forcing Tama to respond. Tama offers lifetime sanctuary and free rent to whoever kills the strike force. In short order, near-chaos erupts as the strike force discovers they’re outnumbered and outgunned. As their numbers dwindle in the barrage of gunfire and other assorted weapons of bodily destruction, Rama moves to the forefront as the de facto leader. Firearms unsurprisingly prove to be ineffective when they run out of bullets, forcing Rama and the others to improvise, using knives, nightsticks, and when those break or otherwise become unavailable, punches, kicks, knees, and elbows become the difference between surviving and advancing to the next level (floor) or dying undeservedly.

"The Raid: Redemption’s" simple, videogame plot is all the plot Evans needs to weave an exhilarating, engrossing, intoxicating action film centered around a series of set pieces, almost all of them featuring Uwais practicing the little-known Indonesian art of Pencak Silat. Evans, Uwais, and Ruhian spent weeks, if not months, choreographing and rehearsing the fight scenes and it shows. Evans’ films each action scene with an emphasis on spatial coherence. We always know where each character is and what each character is doing or about to do. Evans still finds time, however, for virtuoso camera moves and shots, including one tricky shot that involved two camera operators, a newly punched hole in the floor, and Rama descending between floors on a rope, all in one continuous take. Add to that Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park) and Joseph Trapanese’s percussive electronic score and "The Raid: Redemption" proves to be one of the rare films that lives up to its considerable festival-related, pre-release hype.

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