Review Date: 4/1/12
Written And Directed By: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian
Wow. Not many films can live up to the lofty claim of "non-stop action", but "The Raid: Redemption" does. This is a film that boils down the action film formula to its most basic elements, leaving you with ninety minutes of intensely satisfying martial arts mayhem. And when there are fourteen doctors and paramedics listed in the credits, you know you're going to be in for one hell of a ride. The plot is brilliantly simple: a doomed SWAT team is trapped in a crime lord's tenement building, and the villain offers a huge reward to anyone who can take them out. The entire film consists of the various SWAT members desperately trying to escape the building by fighting their way through endless waves of increasingly dangerous thugs. Bullets are used up quickly, which leads to close quarters fighting with knives and clubs, and ultimately fists and feet. What little plot development there is focuses on a rookie named Rama (incredible Iko Uwais) and the team leader, Jaka (superb Joe Taslim). The majority of the action falls on Iko Uwais, and he is utterly spectacular. His attitude and style are very similar to Tony Jaa, and he rips his way through every scene. Very, very impressive. The crime lord's main bodyguard, Mad Dog (dazzling Yayan Ruhian), is an incredible fighter, and seeing him in action is simply mind blowing.
Like any martial arts film, you have to suspend disbelief for the amount of punishment these people can withstand, and be able to move past the shocking display of brutality in order to really appreciate the craft and execution. The choreography is superb and all of the players are at the top of their game. The juxtaposition of balletic grace and intense violence is reminiscent of the best Hong Kong kung fu films, and the give-and-take flow of battle is mesmerizing. To be able to communicate so much through the art of fighting is simply amazing. Shots are long and camera angles are well thought out to provide the best coverage. The camera just barely keeps up with the action, which adds another layer of tension and mood. The visual effects are fantastic, and digital blood is used to great effect. The knife fighting and stabbing effects are also shockingly convincing. Drop-frame editing and digital trickery are evident here and there, but they don't detract from the overall results.
Production-wise, the cinematography is great, the editing is superb, and the music does a good job of setting the mood and complementing the action. The pacing is brisk and the film's rhythm is fluid and smooth, punctuated by quiet moments of reflection after something truly shocking has occurred. Dialog is kept to a bare minimum, which allows the action to do the talking and makes the characters much more realistic and believable. The acting is good for the most part, and better than you would expect from an action film. Joe Taslim gives the best dramatic performance of the bunch, and you can really feel his anguish and sense of duty. Ultimately, this is a genre film and will only appeal to fans of hard hitting, testosterone driven, martial arts action. But if that's your thing, you'll be hard pressed to find something more satisfying. I typically don't like male dominated films, but the lack of posturing, egos, and macho bullshit was quite refreshing. These guys are fighting to survive. They're scared and they know they're going to die, and that tension and dread is what makes the film work on an emotional level. Great stuff.