Wow, this is a bad weekend for movies.
There are two wide releases out today, and both of them look terrible. Wrath of the Titans is a critically-panned sequel to a remake that I absolutely hated, directed by the helmer of another film that was just as bad. Mirror Mirror has been getting much better reviews than I might have guessed, but a lukewarm critical reception won’t be enough to wash the bad taste of those godawful trailers out of my mouth.
So naturally, I looked to my local arthouses to find some other, better alternative. What I found was that Cinema 21 had just started screening The Raid: Redemption. And somewhere in the back of my head, I could hear a faint choir of angels.
The Raid (that godawful “Redemption” subtitle was tacked on by American distributors, ostensibly due to copyright issues) is an action film that comes to us by way of Indonesia. The film’s writer/director, Gareth Evans, was born in Wales. Wrap your head around that one. Anyway, the film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and I’ve been hearing nothing but rave reviews about it ever since. Want to know why? Take a long hard look at the trailer and guess why.
It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to giving this movie its bland subtitle, the geniuses at Sony hired Mike Shinoda — he of Linkin Park fame — to co-write a new score. His partner on this film was Joseph Trapanese, who previously collaborated with Daft Punk for the score of Tron: Legacy. The resulting score is loud, aggressive, overblown, and totally lacking in any subtlety. In other words, it’s just like the film.
Our hero for today is Rama, played by the film’s fight choreographer, Iko Uwais. He’s a rookie police officer who just got transferred to a new SWAT unit (or whatever the Indonesian counterpart of SWAT is). Their latest assignment is to find and capture a notorious crime kingpin named Tama (Ray Sahetapy). The challenge is that Tama is the landlord of a 30-story apartment building, and every single resident in the place (with very few exceptions) is a violent criminal or a drug dealer who pays for the privilege of living and doing business there. So naturally, people notice the armed SWAT team coming through the front door, and a bloodbath ensues.
I think the poster put it best: “1 Ruthless Crime Lord. 20 Elite Cops. 30 Floors of Chaos.” That’s it.
Now, you may be wondering why only twenty cops were sent to clear an entire apartment building full of armed felons. I’d tell you, but that would be a spoiler. And even then, I don’t think I could explain in any coherent manner. This film has a deliberately threadbare plot, treating such things as “plausibility” and “character development” as unneeded distractions.
Above all else, this is an action film. People won’t be coming to this movie for plot twists and character development, they’ll be coming to see people get the shit beaten out of them. And in that regard, it would be an understatement to say that this movie does not disappoint.
Roughly ten minutes in, we see four men on their knees in a row. One of Tama’s most trusted associates proceeds to shoot them in the back of the head one by one, and we’re there to see every grotesque minute of it. In close-up, no less. The fourth one, however, is killed by a hammer to the head, with the editor cutting away just before the blow hits.
First of all, this scene is a fine example of the camerawork in this film. Though there are a few scenes here and there in which the camera shakes uncontrollably, the cinematography is generally inventive enough to shoot the action in some novel way and bold enough to put us right there in the action. Even when this film cuts away from the action, the scene transition is so perfectly timed that it feels like a blow to the stomach.
The second thing this scene should tell you is that the movie is not fucking around. Absolutely no one is safe in this film. It doesn’t matter if the characters are cops, criminals, or innocent bystanders. It doesn’t matter if the characters are men, women, or children. Any one of them could suddenly get killed at any time by a pistol, an assault rifle, a knife, a machete, a tonfa, by punches, by kicks, or by anything else that’s in the surrounding area. There are goons who die of multiple stab wounds before their bodies have hit the floor. There’s one guy who gets tossed off a stairwell just before his spine breaks with a sickening “crunch.” I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single vital spot in the human anatomy that wasn’t shot at point-blank range in one scene or another.
The gore in this movie is spectacular, and that’s due in no small part to the fight choreography. Every single fight scene in this movie (and oh, there are a lot of them) is performed with an extremely visceral thrill that I haven’t seen in ages. I’m surprised that the attacks look like they hurt so much, considering that the actors and stunt people clearly aren’t human. This movie showcases feats of strength, speed, and endurance that look incredibly lifelike, even though they should be well beyond the limits of mere mortals. Hell, there were limbs flying around in ways that I didn’t think were anatomically possible until I saw the film. I’ll admit that there were a couple of obvious wire shots here and there, but the fight scenes were still inventive and thrilling to watch from start to finish.
Put simply, the fight scenes are the only reason to watch The Raid (Redemption). Everything in this movie — from the threadbare plot to the overly aggressive score — is done to set up the fight scenes and to make them entertaining to watch, plausibility be damned. Still, the fight scenes are so visceral and spectacular that they’re easily worth the cost of admission three times over. Some audience members will be entertained, others will be shocked, and others will be offended, but any audience that sees this film will assuredly do so with the same words on their lips throughout the whole running time: “Holy fucking shit!”