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The Raid: Redemption Review

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by Casimir Harlow Oct 2, 2012

  • Movies review


    The Raid: Redemption Review

    1 minute of romance. 100 minutes of non-stop carnage.

    Arguably the best pure action film in years, Welsh director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian project, The Raid, is one of the most intense, gun-toting, knife-slashing, bone-cracking, neck-breaking movies ever made.

    It at once combines Western sensibilities with Eastern action, using a variation of Die Hard’s mould-setting plot, adding themes and stylisation from John Woo’s seminal masterpiece, Hard Boiled, and setting it against the kind of oppressive, against-the-odds, backdrop you’d expect from John Carpenter (Assault from Precinct 13).

    Injected into this are fight scenes that combine the furious and jaw-droppingly imaginative choreography of a Jackie Chan movie with the sheer elbow-to-your-face brutality of Tony Jaa (Ong Bak). Indeed, for those familiar with Oldboy, much of The Raid plays out like a feature-length version of that hammer fight scene. It’ll leave you feeling busted and broken, but exhilarated more than any other movie in a long time.

    If you’ve come here looking for action – some of the best action ever captured for a movie – then you’ve come to the right place.

    The Raid takes place in a 30-storey apartment block run by a powerful crime lord who offers safe haven to any criminal with enough money to pay the rent. With the local police and politicians bought off, the building is untouchable – a veritable no-go zone. Until now. With a heavily armed police unit tasked with assaulting the block and bringing in the crime boss once and for all, it’s just a matter of getting through the 29 floors of bad guys to get to him...

    “I don’t care how big he is or who’s behind him, he must be stopped.”

    Director Gareth Evans has been interested in the relatively obscure Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat for quite some time now. His last movie, Merantau, introduced audiences to this fighting style, and to fight choreographers and lead action stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and his follow-up, entitled Berandel, was supposed to be a prison-based epic actioner that would break through to international markets. With budgetary restrictions preventing him from realising this dream, he developed an alternative idea – Serbuan Maut (The Raid).

    Shot with a completely unknown Indonesian cast on a budget of little over a million dollars (!!), The Raid is considerably more than its constituent parts, largely as a result of superb direction, compelling performances, and – most importantly – devastatingly authentic fight sequences. Indeed the majority of the movie was filmed in just one corridor and one apartment room, repeatedly re-fitted and repurposed for each successive scene – yet you would never know from the end result, which is perhaps the genius behind the filmmaking techniques. In much the same way as a young Spielberg did for Jaws, Evans has had to improvise and innovate all the way, yet repeatedly delivers with original set-pieces that would make even world-renowned action-maestros go green with jealousy.

    Obviously the tower-block setting pays tribute to Die Hard, and the against-the-odds sentiments are strong throughout, but the novel ideas at play here are the ones that remain truly memorable: from having to silence the spotters before they alert the building to the police raid, to the first stunning ambush, pitched in near-darkness; the fuse lit by a single shotgun-blast. From there on out it’s pretty-much all-action, with only a few moments to breathe between each successively difficult skirmish – the fridge scene; the floor shoot-out; the knife-and-nightstick sequence; and the machete fight – in most action movies you get one or two memorable set-pieces; scenes which get all the significant replay value, but The Raid strings together wall-to-wall action set-pieces; each one better than the last, more jaw-dropping, and more painfully brutal.

    Aside from the action, what also sets this movie apart from the rest – and puts it amidst the best – is the overwhelmingly oppressive, claustrophobic environment, which is used to great effect. Using the classic idea of overwhelming, unstoppable, seemingly innumerable enemies in the vein of all those aforementioned John Carpenter classics (Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13), The Raid has plenty of scenes which wouldn’t look out of place in a zombie movie: as bullets run dry, and the bad guys just keep coming, it’s easy to feel as overpowered as our heroes are.

    Which brings us to the cast. Whilst the actual characters are fairly typical of this kind of action fare – the courageous, singularly capable lead hero; the tough, no-nonsense team leader; and the ageing supervising lieutenant who has his own agenda, versus the eccentric, nasty crime lord; his two tough-ass lieutenants; and 14 floors of vicious, seemingly generic, ‘inmates’ – there are some wonderful little touches that distinguish the individuals that form this group from the standard cop versus criminal clichés.

    Iko Uwais makes for a fantastic lead hero, relying more on his fists to speak for themselves, but still exuding magnificent grace, displaying earnest determination, and exhibiting genuine presence. He is a great action-star-in-the-making, and an unusual one too in that he’s that rare type that feels like he might be overpowered and overwhelmed at every stage; heightening the tension and driving forth the desperation for him to survive and surmount the odds. Reminiscent of Bruce Willis’s own debut action performance in Die Hard, Uwais sneaks, stabs, struggles, sprints and smashes his way through each successively difficult floor. He never feels invincible – a fact which is often brought resoundingly to the forefront – and every single battle feels tense and traumatic.

    Joe Taslim makes for a suitably flawed team leader, forthright and resolute in his actions, but soon overwhelmed by the gangland ambush and left fighting for his life as his team dwindles around him. Team leaders like this have always been interesting supporting characters – think: Michael Biehn in The Rock, Colin Salmon in Resident Evil, even Nick Fury in The Avengers – and Taslim gets more than most in terms of moments to shine, including one brutal fight sequence that will leave you reeling.

    On the other side of this coin we have the enigmatic Ray Sahetapy playing the brilliantly nasty crime lord behind the mayhem. Even in a language you don’t understand, his intonation adds so much to the performance, his voice penetrating; his presence overwhelming; and his actions swift and merciless. He’s charmingly mischievous yet unflinchingly relentless in his violent retribution towards the police, and he easily makes his mark as one of those classic action-movie villains who hold your attention in every scene they’re in.

    Co-choreographing the fight scenes with the guy who plays the lead hero, Iko Uwais, we have Yayan Ruhian, who also plays the lead henchman unleashed upon the cops. If Sahetapy makes for an excellent crime boss, Ruhian is an even better henchman, living up to his name of “Mad Dog” – which is, no doubt, a tribute to the lead henchman character of the same name in Woo’s Hard Boiled – and both constructing and participating in some of the most stunning fight sequences in the entire movie (which is no small feat). His two-on-one fight has to be seen to be believed, and he truly feels like an opponent who simply cannot be beaten, whilst his strange sense of morality and ‘fair game’ (for example, when it comes to guns-versus-fists) adds a nice extra dimension to this unstoppable fighting force, and again echoes the parallels with Hard Boiled’s own Mad Dog.

    “He also has two trusted guards. One is a f**king mad dog. He’s a maniac of feet and fists that will tear down walls for his boss. The other’s the brains of the business. He keeps the mad dog in check, but don’t be fooled, given the opportunity, he will put bullets in you.”

    There are so many others to pay recognition to, but I’ll only mention one more – the particularly creepy, almost possessed, machete-wielding villain that can be seen scraping his blade along the floor in the trailer. He’s worth mentioning mainly because he stands out amidst the seemingly endless inhabitants of the building who rally themselves en masse to repel the interlopers. Aside from the fantastically tense scene from the trailer, there’s an even more painfully suspenseful moment where he searches a flat for hidden cops (another nod to Die Hard).

    Certainly this is a movie that is not for the squeamish either: its Carpenter-esque horror overtones are married up with a classic Robocop-era-Paul-Verhoeven-style propensity for gratuitous, extreme violence. People don’t just get stabbed, they get stabbed six times and then have their throats ripped out. Indeed the lead hero’s signature move is to spin his opponent around and slash his neck from behind in a hook motion (first seen in the glorious nightstick-and-knife fight sequence that introduces viewers to just what he is capable of). Victims are thrown and crippled by back-snapping landings; impaled on broken doors; have their heads smashed out against walls or against the floor; have their chestbones broken by elbow-blows – it’s a rare swift mercy for somebody to get simply shot in the head, but that happens too, and with an equal amount of style.

    If you like action movies – whether you loved the old Arnie and Stallone classics and consequently love the Rambo/Expendables throwback movies, or have been swept away by the frenetic Bourne-style fast-and-furious modern combat moves, or simply crave more Transporter-style Jason Statham efforts – then I cannot impress upon you how much you have to see this movie. It lives up to all the action movie clichés that get bandied around to the point where they no longer really mean anything – wall-to-wall action, no-holds-barred fight sequences – with The Raid, it’s all true.

    In fact, if viewers want to try and levy criticism at the movie, it will likely come in the form that there is a little bit too much action, although kudos to the film’s clever concepts, interesting characterisations and commanding performances that even casual action fans will still come out of it with little else to complain about, rating it with solid marks and unable to dispute the fact that it is a genuine breath of fresh air. And for dedicated action fans, this is a dream come true: for those who watched Oldboy and wanted the hammer fight to go on longer, who wanted to see what happened in the elevator; who love the unfinished “lost floors” footage from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death; who even lap up the uncut fight footage available only on the old Transporter DVDs; who are yearning for the not only Hard Target on Blu-ray, but the magnificently over-the-top lost Director’s Cut workprint to finally be released – The Raid may appeal to a wider base, but it’s designed for hardcore action fans.

    With the unparalleled international success of this movie, director Gareth Evans is already planning it to be the first in a trilogy, and is hoping that the prison-based story of Berandel – the movie that they didn’t have the budget to shoot – will work as the first sequel. Of course, Hollywood being what it is, production studio hands have already felt the need to tinker with the end product. Not only has The Raid been renamed The Raid: Redemption in the States (in anticipation of the trilogy structure of ‘Raid’ movies, with the second being tentatively titled The Raid: Retaliation), but it has also been re-scored by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. Personally, I’m glad we kept the original, simple, title in the UK, and, thankfully, the new score is pretty good – for the most part – helping the action crescendo to some true action-highs and also lulling to near-silence, as necessary, to fulfil some slo-mo, almost muted, death-blows.

    It would have been refreshing if this was the end of the story: a promise of a bright future for director Gareth Evans and his lead cast members/fighters Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (as well as the others), along with a greater audience for the trademark martial art of Pencak Silat. But it’s not the end of the story. As much as it pains me to say it, following on from the likes of Let Me In and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and in the wake of the announcement that Josh Brolin is going to be starring as Oldboy in Spike Lee’s remake of that classic action-thriller, it seems that Sony’s Screen Gems production company have already greenlit a remake. In fact news of this immediately affected Box Office numbers, seeing them drop as audience members who prefer their movies to star a known actor and be in the English language decided instead to bide their time, knowing that the remake was on its way.

    Let me just say: the only film that stands a chance of even coming close to topping this actioner is Evans’s own sequel, Berandel. I simply cannot see how Hollywood – with its PG-13 restrictions, stunt-insurance issues, and propensity for trying to make actors into proficient fighters – can come close to capturing the high-octane hyper-kinetic stylisation of The Raid. It’s bad enough remaking dialogue-driven thrillers like Dragon Tattoo, or even seminal shockers like Oldboy, but how do they really think that they are going to repeat the magic of Pencak Silat, the fresh martial art brought to life here, with a Hollywood cast and Western restrictions? There’s simply no way that they’ll duplicate the sheer visceral intensity of the painfully realistic fight scenes, and surely that’s a pivotal element of the movie?

    And for those frustrated by the impossible-to-ignore similarities between The Raid and one of the other best action movies of the year – Dredd – it would seem that this was just a really big coincidence. I’m not sure how many people actually buy that... the fortified apartment-block-full-of-criminals setting, run by a powerful drug lord who is first seen executing a bunch of people; the intercom unit the villain uses to incite the gangs in the block into taking down the cops; the cops taking refuge in a flat owned by people who have ties to an earlier scene in the movie; the ambush... Of course people are going to draw comparisons: we haven’t had an assault-on-a-tower-block action-thriller like this since Die Hard, and then, all of a sudden, we get two. The filmmakers involved in both would certainly have you believe it’s coincidence, and it’s certainly not as easy as saying ‘Dredd copies The Raid’ because the Dredd script was written long before The Raid started filming. It’s also not as easy as then stating ‘well, obviously The Raid used a leaked version of Dredd’s original script’ because Dredd underwent significant reshoots after The Raid was released.

    “For ten years, this building’s been a no-go zone for the police.”

    The reality is, however, it doesn’t really matter whether these movies borrowed for one another, they are both standalone entities which can be loved independently. Watching one did not in the least bit affect my enjoyment of the other and I happen to think that they are still two of the best action movies of the year – Dredd being the best sci-fi actioner (with more of a slant on shooting than hand-to-hand combat); The Raid being the best martial-arts actioner. You don’t need to compare the two, and you don’t need to take sides – you can just love them both.

    Similarly fans might be a bit confused by the various different versions of The Raid that have been released: the original cut had a different score by the director’s regular Indonesian composers; Linkin’ Park’s Mike Shinoda then provided a new score for the US; and the film was then trimmed for an R-rating on release. Whilst the director promised access to the original Indonesian score as well as the new Shinoda score, that hasn’t yet come to light in the UK, although it’s reportedly an option on the US disc (which only sports the Unrated, fully uncut version).

    What we do get, instead, is both the UK Theatrical Cut and the Original Uncut Version to choose between, but that’s of little consolation. Unfortunately – or fortunately, for those worried that they might have missed something seeing this at the cinema – there’s almost no difference between the two cuts. In terms of runtime, it’s a matter of just 10 seconds, but I honestly couldn’t spot anything new. Characters still get stabbed multiple times, or shot multiple times; blood levels appear consistent, it all looks the same. When you get a movie as violent as The Raid is to begin with, a further few seconds of additional violence will likely go unnoticed. Honestly, I’d have preferred to have both soundtrack options rather than two near-identical cuts. I look forward to hearing back from those who were able to spot the few differences between the two versions, but certainly don’t go into this expecting to see something vastly different from what you saw at the cinema.

    Of course, if you missed it during an unforgivably short theatrical run then I highly recommend that you pick it up and watch it as soon as you can. It is a wildly impressive actioner. It will make you feel a part of this ill-fated assault; constricted by the tight corridors, faced by overwhelming numbers at every turn, and forced to turn to any object as a weapon, and fight for your desperate life with every skill, every technique in your arsenal. It will blow you away, and leave you utterly shell-shocked; the adrenaline still running through your veins as you credits roll, making you feel like a battle-weary veteran; exhilarated and exhausted beyond all expectations. It’s awesome, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping – one of the best pure action movies ever made – a genuine game-changer. And it comes highly recommended.