The Raid: Redemption...no cheesy chopsocky this.
The Raid: Redemption is a brutal, expertly made Indonesian cops-and-crooks thriller which succeeds in putting every bloodless, painless, pointless, anemic American action film on notice: either man up or get out of the way. This movie–written, directed and edited by a Welshman (Gareth Huw Evans) who appears to be as skilled in an exotic form of hand-to-hand combat as he is at staging, shooting, and cutting duels to the death–is getting rave reviews for resurrecting the basic architecture of classic slambang action moviemaking. The Raid: Redemption is no masterpiece of emotional subtlety, but its sound design alone, a playlist of bone cracks and scissored carotid arteries, spliced with tense interludes of pulse-racing silence, qualifies as a symphony of dramatic accomplishment.
There is no actual redemption in The Raid: Redemption. The filmmakers were forced to tack on the extra word because their original, standalone title wasn’t available for U.S. audiences, so don’t expect any final act moments of emotional uplift. What this movie offers is a few battered survivors limping out of a crime ridden apartment tower housing a drug lord, his trained-to-kill henchmen and a horde of expendable lowlifes all practiced in an Indonesian martial art called pencak silat, which seems to involve kneecap cracking kicks, cheekbone shattering punches, neck twisting flips and, if something sharp is handy, the all’s-fair cutting of an opponent’s throat.
The set-up is simple: a SWAT team invades the building with the goal of taking out the scummy drug kingpin. But there are a few hiccups in the plan. It turns out the raid was ordered by a corrupt police captain without authority so, once the twenty or so SWAT members find themselves trapped, they can’t call for back-up. There is also a rookie cop with a pregnant wife at home who has his own goals for the mission, which quickly goes south when the cops are discovered and massacred in a hail of death delivered via machine gun and machete. The plot holes pile up as fast as the bodies in this genre meat grinder but the clean-lines of the fight choreography, accompanied by a sonata of grunts, manages to achieve an almost trance-like purity. This is no cheesy chopsocky throwback.
The movie is, however, a slap to the face of American directors attempting to pass off action movies these days: a meager gruel of PG-13 rated comic book mayhem in which no blood is spilled, threat is minimized, and any and all deaths befall nameless characters shunted off-screen before their demise. Even R-rated films suffer from a shooting style which, for some inexplicable reason, has become a technical standard: extremely close-up, handheld, digitally manipulated chaos staged without any regard to spatial dynamics. A dreary formula which forfeits not only coherence and emotional involvement but also the violent beauty to be found in the ballet of the battle, the ambush, the Mexican stand-off, and the other classic tropes of movie confrontation. When did the American moviemaking industry surrender not only their cajones but also their competence to foreign filmmakers who are able to echo the action chops of violent entertainments like The Wild Bunch, The French Connection, Platoon, Terminator, Die Hard, Aliens, Heat and Point Break? The action movie is dead. Long-live the action movie...in Indonesia. See The Raid: Redemption before the already planned American remake comes along and screws it up.