I was never into hardcore but my ex-girlfriend in college was. She was into all those bands with “blood” in their names and local Boston groups like Suicide File. I tolerated it – anything was better than Morrisey, her other love – and I even liked a few. My favorite parts were, of cours, the breakdowns. All of them. Any of them. Breakdowns make me want to do push-ups and bang a chick – at the same time! The Raid: Redemption is like a bunch of hardcore breakdowns strung together with some flimsy exposition thrown in between. I couldn’t care less what was going on in between the breakdowns – just fast forward the verses and get to the throwdowns.
Here’s the inconsequential plot briefing: in Jakarta, a staggering amount of baddies are holed up in an apartment building, lorded over by ultimate scumbag Tama (Ray Shetapy), who resides at the top floor. A SWAT team arrives led by Rama (Iko Uwais), who can be seen in the film’s opening doing a plethora of badass stuff like praying and beating the stuffing out of a heavy bag. The SWAT team must fight their way up to the top of the tower, but on each floor resides more and more baddies armed with guns, knives, machetes, etc.. And they ALL know martial arts!
It’s essentially set-up like a video game, with each floor being another level until you have to fight the boss, Tama. There’s even a mini-boss! There are some twists and double-crosses along the way, but all you need to know is that there are a bazillion jaw-dropping fight sequences. Believe me, you will not see better choreography, camera-work or raw physical prowess in an action movie this year. Once the SWAT team enters the tower and the first trigger gets pulled, there’s a kinetic energy that never lets up. This movie is alive and it wants to kill you. The martial art of choice is the traditional Indonesian art of Silat, which I don’t think I had ever seen before director Gareth Evans‘ and Iko Uwais’ first collaboration, Merantau. Silat focuses on a lot of joint manipulation, which is infinitely more intense to watch than just a bunch of kicks to the face. Plus, everyone in the film is super tiny and scrappy, which makes the fights all the more interesting.
The mini-boss battle I mentioned earlier is unreal. It’s two-on-one with Rama and an ally taking on Tama’s number one fighter. There aren’t enough positive adjectives in my thesaurus or hyperbole in the universe to convey how sick this rumble is. It’s a solid three to five minutes long and over that time it escalates to reach a beautiful ballet of brutality the likes of which you may never see again. People in my theater cheered when it was over. I can’t wait for the home release so I can watch that fight on a loop.
My only problem with the film is minor considering what I assume the aim of the film is, but it did keep it from reaching the next level of action-movie greatness. When the SWAT team first enters the building and long after, everyone is wearing the same thing. Call me racist or whatever, but I couldn’t tell who was who, therefore I didn’t care about anyone who got killed (and A LOT of SWAT gets killed). That’s what keeps The Raid from being more than violent eye-candy to me. In the best action movies, like Die Hard and Leon and many others, we get emotionally invested in the fiction. All I gave a damn about in The Raid was the action because that’s all they let me care about. But that’s cool with me. They went for raw, visceral entertainment and they knocked it out of the fucking park.
The Raid: Redemption is playing in select U.S. cities. Go see it or else. Gareth Evans’ previous Indonesian martial arts throwdown Merantau is currently on Netflix Watch Instantly. Stream it or else.