This’ll be a quick one. I’ll be seeing The Raid 2 tomorrow, so I watched this to prepare myself (though, given the relative lack of plot or character development, I could probably have enjoyed 2 without seeing this). Definitely I’ll want to watch this again at some point, but suffice to say, if you’re at all interested in this and haven’t seen it–see it. I can’t imagine, knowing what to expect, that many would be disappointed by The Raid: Redemption. It delivers on its promises and then some. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s frequently very impressive.
The plot is very simple. A team of 20 Jakarta policemen (and we’re talking basically a SWAT team, not beat patrolmen) are leading a raid on a high-rise, the headquarters of crime boss Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). Led by Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) and Sgt. Jaka (Joe Taslim), the team faces heavy losses as they fight their way through the building. Our de facto protagonist is Officer Rama (Iko Uwais), a husband and father-to-be who turns out to have a connection to Riyadi’s gang; his brother, Andi (Donny Alamsyah) is one of Riyadi’s right-hand men, along with the psychopathic Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian).
The film ends, not explicitly setting up a sequel, but definitely allowing for one. Clearly that sequel has come, though I’m curious to see how much it builds on the admittedly thin foundation of this film.
Some of the criticisms of Redemption (especially Roger Ebert’s 1-star review) center on the lack of character development and story. And, to be fair, the film’s lack of depth (or truly memorable characters) keeps it from being a true masterpiece. But such is the film’s skill that it keeps one engaged throughout. Director-writer-editor-co-fight-choreographer. Gareth Evans shows a sure hand throughout, generally resisting the urge to make the film something other than it is. It’s a cavalcade of action, and superior action at that.
As a director, Evans has a good eye and makes the action flow. As a writer…he stays out of his own way. As an editor, he puts the film together smoothly and gracefully. And as a choreographer (working in tandem with Uwais and Ruhian), he helps create some of the most astounding fight sequences I’ve ever seen. The drug lab battle in particular becomes almost a ballet, as fists, feet, and props collide in a vicious frenzy. And it’s followed by a three-way fight between Rama, Andi, and Mad Dog, with the latter proving to be almost demonically hard to kill as he absorbs blow after blow, continuing to administer violence without losing a step.
Even without the emotional grounding that would made the film really devastating, it manages some poignancy; one killing, a neck-snap coming after lengthy hand-to-hand combat, is particularly haunting, as the victim paws feebly at the killer, trying to avoid the inevitable.
The acting is, considering the characterizations, not bad. Uwais is a perfectly acceptable hero, Taslim has a strong presence, Sahetapy is a suitably smug S.O.B., Ruhian is simply terrifying…maybe the language barrier helped, but the performances seemed consistently solid, and certainly didn’t let the film down.
The production design, by T. Moty D. Setyanto, also deserves praise; how much of the film used found locations I do not know, but the settings seem designed to enhance the action, and do so most effectively. The sound design (Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal) is top-notch as well, with the many, many body-blows sounding very convincing indeed.
I’m intrigued to see how 2 is, given its greater scope and length. But if the first film is any indication, it will at least be impressively violent.