Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

A film as hyperbolic as The Raid: Redemption can easily give rise to hyperbole in discussions, so let’s get two things straight: it isn’t wall-to-wall action — although there’s a lot less talking than in, say, Skyfall — and it isn’t the best action movie in decades, but it is a very good and important one.

Normally, the easiest way to introduce a film is by a plot synopsis, but plot is not the the primary purpose of The Raid: Redemption (the ugly “Redemption” subtitle was added when the studio couldn’t clear the US distribution rights for plain ol’ “The Raid”). It is here to kick ass. And so it does, in a pile-on of set piece after set piece of punching and kicking and knifing and shooting and headbutting, each one more imaginative and impeccably choreographed than the last. If there is one thing here that is unimpeachable, it’s writer-director Gareth Evans’s staging of those action scenes. He directs the everloving fuck out of them. Not one shot is misplaced; their angles and movements are not only cool, but serve the action. Every spin, swerve, and leap of the camera gives each blow a dynamite impact.

And speaking of that, this film gets the golden rule of action movies right: there has to be a sense of danger, and for that to happen, characters have to get hurt. And though supercop Rama (Iko Uwais) endures a greater beating than anyone could while functioning so well, he does undergo physical attrition and pain, and every scene feels dangerous. One scene in particular, when he is hiding behind a false wall and a searching machete stabs through the wall and into the tip of his cheek, and he must stifle a scream, is as nerve-wracking and painful to watch as any thriller scene in recent memory. The only real issue with the staging is ugly colour palette with its swimming blacks and washed out blues and tans. Which would make The Raid: Redemption (ugh, that subtitle) a damn-near perfect action movie.

Except . . . well . . . goddamnit, you guys, story matters. And while The Raid provides just enough plot to ground its action scenes and give them a sense of stakes, there are still problems: the characters are all underdeveloped, some are completely superfluous, and a hamfisted “long-lost brothers reunited” subplot late in the game doesn’t help matters much. Character beats are so spread out that fight scenes often have little emotional connection to the people in them. That’s not to say the movie feels detached, just that the more we care about each fight on a story level, the better the action works. When the arch-villain is dealt with, it’s unsatisfying, both because it is to nondescript to feel significant and because the character who deals his fate is thinly developed himself. A script rewrite could have hugely improved The Raid, and without changing the plot/action ratio. Composite a character here, add a backstory there, and weave each character’s feelings and objectives more concretely into the action, and you’ve got an action classic on your hands.

This is not to say that The Raid isn’t entertaining. It works, thanks to its superb direction, the stellar choreography by Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and a performance by Uwais that, besides its immense physical demands, manages to give the superhuman hero an authentic emotional presence. The original plan for this trio was to make a film called Berendal, but when funding didn’t materialize, The Raid was their low-budget safety option. It’s hard to fathom what Berendal had in store if this was their fallback plan, but thanks to The Raid’s success, we’ll soon find out: the former project is being funded as a sequel. Hopefully the extra time for development will help bring this team’s storytelling up to the level of their jaw-dropping action scenes.


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