The smart money will be expecting more “Raid” than “Redemption” with Gareth Huw Evans’ Jakarta-set action film The Raid: Redemption. In fact, I was never clear on who was redeemed or how, but the simple fact is that this is primarily an action picture—albeit a very well made one that has wandered over into the area of art-house hit owing to both craftsmanship and subtitles. I suspect it’s also been a little overrated because its art-house status has found it being reviewed by critics who normally don’t see this kind of movie, and who are finding it rather fresher than it really is. I’m not saying it’s not good. I’m merely saying its not great or particularly special. What I’d mostly call it is efficient. But in the case of this particular kind of movie, that can be quite enough.
The poster promises, “1 ruthless crime lord, 20 elite cops, 30 floors of chaos.” While we only deal with about 15 of those 30 floors, and the 20 cops are quickly reduced in number, that’s pretty much what the movie gives us. Pared down to its basics—and I don’t mean this as necessarily a pejorative—it’s a movie that’s been reduced to a videogame. The situation is simple—get past a bunch of largely generic machete-wielding bad guys (there are enough machetes here for a dozen Friday the 13th series) and one really unstoppable bad guy to get at the crime lord. Throw in some police corruption and a “brothers on opposite sides of the law” scenario, and that’s pretty much all the plot there is. It plays by the sillier rules of the genre, just as it’s supposed to—like the fact that although the machete-wielding bad guys come rolling out like oranges, they tend to very politely take turns at trying to off the hero—and that’s kind of what makes it work. The Raid isn’t out to reinvent anything. It’s simply trying to be ridiculously good at reveling in what it is. For the most part, it succeeds. It’s a straight-up midnight-movie actioner that knows exactly how far to go, and when to edge just a little bit beyond that.
Though the film makes some (very) tentative stabs at having something more than mud-puddle depth, it’s doubtful that anyone is really buying into it. Apart from the hoary cliche of brothers on opposite sides of the law, this is all pretty black-and-white. The hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), is oh-so-very virtuous (kissing his pregnant wife, refusing to leave an injured brother officer etc). The crime lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), is unflinchingly evil and, of course, disturbingly mean. When executing some enemies he runs out of bullets, so he opens a drawer to get more—but, hey, why bother re-loading for just one remaining miscreant when there’s a ball peen hammer in that drawer, too? Nasty as that sounds, this is one of those moments where Evans shows he knows what he’s doing, going just far enough by cutting away before the scene gets too gory. The film generally keeps that approach in mind. That is not, however, to say that I’d recommend The Raid to anyone who has a problem with violence. It is brutally violent. It does, on the other hand, tend to avoid being sadistic about it—except possibly in the hand-to-hand combat scenes.
What keeps The Raid from completely working—at least where I’m concerned—lies in those hand-to-hand scenes. Our first encounter with the film’s über-badass, known reasonably enough as Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), finds him expressing his problem with firearms—“Squeezing a trigger is like ordering takeout”—and that proves to be his credo. The problem with this is that scenes of guys beating the crap out of each other ultimately wear thin. One critic I encountered called the longest such scene “mind-numbing,” but for me it was—as is often the case with extended fight scenes—more “mind-wandering.” After a certain number of punches have been thrown and other punishments doled out, I start thinking about other things. That won’t be the case with hardcore action fans. For the rest of us, there are compensations in the sheer drive and energy of the filmmaking itself. Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, and language.