Thursday, September 6, 2012

In short: The Raid: Redemption (2011)

Original title: Serbuan maut

Welshman in Indonesia's Gareth Evans's second (after the brilliant Merantau) Indonesian movie The Raid is one of those films that is easy to love but also exceedingly difficult to write about, for, like all the best action films, it really is a long series of first firefights, then stunts and extremely violent martial arts sequences, with only just the right amount of plot and characterisation to hold it all together, so not exactly a movie that invites analysis. And nothing even the best writer (which I am not) can do in a review can come close to the actual rush of just watching The Raid's actors move and hit and die.

On the plot level, this is cleverly basic stuff (instead of the idiotic basic plot style someone like Luc Besson prefers): a team of militarized police is assaulting a large apartment building to find and kill its owner, a gangster boss who manages the building as a free haven for other gangsters. Things go pear-shaped for the cops fast. At the point when half of them are already dying in a firefight with a horde of the building's tenants, the Sergeant of the team (Joe Taslim) learns that the superior who is with him on the raid has been lying to him, and the whole assault is not officially condoned at all; that means no reinforcements. Soon enough, there are only the sergeant, the bad superior, talented rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), and some cannon fodder characters left, and they are separated in the fighting to boot. Further complications - among them Rama's discovery of the fact that his brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) is a right hand man of the main bad guy - ensue.

So yes, as a narrative, this is as bare-bones as it gets, but Evans (also responsible for the film's script, as well as its editing) knows exactly how to use the minimalist strokes of his plot to kickstart his characters into motion; and once they are in motion, they never really stop anymore. Or rather, when they stop it seems to be of mere exhaustion and therefore an absolute necessity. Exhaustion is actually a surprisingly important point in the film's action. Atypically for action cinema, Evans never seems to forget how much punishment his characters have actually taken during the course of the movie, and a part of the joy of The Raid is watching actors (with Merantau's returning Uwais as the clear star, and still able to fight at once elegant and brutal) perform ever escalating action sequences while looking progressively winded.

Another, even greater, part of said joy is experiencing Evans's sense of rhythm, the way editing, camera and actors work together to give the film a pulse that makes it closer to a long-form piece of music than a narrative. This is of course not atypical for martial arts cinema, but it's only done with as much consequence and perseverance as here in the very best examples of the genre, turning The Raid: Redemption into something special.

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