Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Raid: Redemption - Theatrical Review


Release Date: March 23, 2012

I have heard a lot of good things about this film over the past year ever since it premiered last year at a number of independent film festivals. Not very movies can live up to the hype surrounding this one particular film but somehow it managed to exceed almost every expectation I had for it.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Edwards 21 Irvine
Time: 10:00 pm March 30, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 41 min
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Loves: Action films, inventive action sequences, martial arts
Likes: The feel and tone of the film, extremely graphic violence
Neutral: Forced and unnecessary plot contrivances
Hates: Misleading advertisements
Fight Choreography: Done by stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian

This movie is a gut punch to every other so-called action movie to come out in the past few years. I know it is a popular comment to make at the moment in regards to this film but this truly is one of the best all out action films in a good many years. Does that make it the best action film of all time? Hell no, I don't think there is one all conclusive action film to end all action films. Each has their own qualities to them, going over my own collection of films it is actually very difficult to single out any of them for being solely considered an action film with the one possible exception of something like the original Die Hard (the lesser sequels not withstanding). I find myself looking over and seeing things like Kill Bill Vol. 1 or even an oldie but a goodie such as the immortal Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. The common theme amongst all those films I just sited is that they aren't all balls to the walls action flicks and they all do something slightly different than the other. The Raid joins the lofty ranks of those films by providing one of the most intense, brutal, unrelenting and ridiculously exhausting displays of ass-kicking I have ever seen.

20 elite police officers have been assigned the nigh impossible task of taking down a local crime lord who has fortified himself within a derelict 30 story tall building filled with criminals and low-lives of every imaginable sort. Their mission is simple, get in undetected, reach the top floor, detain their target and exit as quickly and quietly as possible. Unfortunately for them things don't go as planned and shortly after busting in through the front door they all find themselves trapped within this crime infested maze of hallways and doorways where every single resident begins to mercilessly hunt them down and kill each and every one of them. There only hope is to then reach the top of the building by clearing out each floor systematically to take out the man responsible for the bounty placed on their heads.

20 Elite Cops...

This movie is pure unadulterated action porn, it's as simple as that. If you want to see a furious amount of death, destruction and hallways littered with corpses then this movie was made for you. Sure, there are some very small and somewhat insignificant story beats placed throughout but let's be honest here, those are only there to give the audience some time to catch its breath in between the ass beatings. The film starts out extremely humble compared to the eruption of violence and mayhem that occurs soon after. We see one man, Rama (Iko Uwais) a police officer, as he kisses his pregnant wife goodbye and is soon with his comrades inside an armored vehicle where they are being briefed on their mission by their Lieutenant, Jaka (Joe Taslim), as they travel to their ultimate destination. As soon as they leave the safety of that vehicle and force their way into that building the film grabs you by the balls and doesn't let go until the end credits roll.

The question you might be asking yourself is what makes this action movie better than something made by the illusive (and highly overrated) Michael Bay? Using his "talents" as a counterpoint, it is a combination of how this film allows the audience to actually SEE what is happening on screen at all times. Many filmmakers (Bay isn't the only one guilty of this) use what is commonly known as the shaky-cam, a method in which the director shakes the camera to imply a sense of urgency and ferocity to the action on screen. That technique has infuriated me since its inception, I want to see what is happening, not have some jackass behind the camera shaking the shit out of it so that it appears as though there is action going on. If the action is done well and is framed in a way where the audience can tell what is going on then there is no reason to indulge in such ridiculous techniques other than to camouflage poor filmmaking. Needless to say this film doesn't fall back on such parlor tricks.

30 stories of chaos...

It may sound like such a simple thing to get right but you would be surprised at how often it is done wrong. I am not entirely sure why filmmakers feel the need to shoot their action scenes in such a manner but it takes a film like The Raid to open movie goers' eyes to the truth of the matter. That they have been putting up with inexcusable amounts of action rubbish over the years and that time has come to an end. Then you have the action itself, which like the aforementioned films can range from gun play to hand to hand combat but most action fans I suspect don't really care what kind of action it is just so long as they get to see some people get their asses kicked six ways from Sunday. Personally I just want to see people get f**ked up in all manner of crazy and ridiculous ways and The Raid provided that for me in spades. There is some shit that goes down in this thing that will leave you gasping for air when it is all over just from the incessant action that seemingly goes on forever.

Exhaustive is the word I would use to best describe the action scenes. From the initial gun fight that takes place moments after they are discovered to the brutal martial arts sequences that litter the later half of the film, I often times didn't even realize I was holding my breath until it was all over with. I was seriously mentally exhausted each and every time from watching these guys do what I would normally consider impossible feats of acrobatics to the point where I was thankful for those little bits of story that get interjected into the proceedings. It isn't just the fights either, there are some truly tense moments that pop up as well. Take for instance one scene where two of the police officers are hiding within an extremely tight space behind a wall. One of the men pursuing them starts to drive his machete through the wall with abandon until he reaches the end where the blade cuts right into the cheek of one of the men. That scenario has been done to death over the decades but something about how it was filmed, edited and acted here just made it more intensive than usual.

1 ruthless crime lord...

The true star of the show however are those long and arduous action set pieces. This is an action movie after all and if that isn't any good then what's the point right? My goodness though...I hardly know where to begin. Well, first off I was highly impressed with how the film dealt with the conceit that this was going to eventually turn into your standard fair martial arts extravaganza by the end. I was half expecting our hero Rama to just throw his guns down at one point and start kicking the shit out of people, but that doesn't happen. We actually see these guys get whittled down to nothing within the first thirty to forty minutes as they fire off every ounce of ammunition they have to ward off all those crazies. I promise that you have not seen this sort of chaos involving automatic weapons in a very long time. The way it progresses is relentless, they are backed into a room where they are being shot at from all angles, cops are dropping like flies, they begin blasting and chopping their way down to the next floor where they are greeted by more baddies which then escalates into some truly awe inspiring and pretty imaginative deaths on both sides. By the time that single sequence was done I felt just like the characters did, beaten up and left for dead.

But as their ammo begins to dwindle they must find other ways of dispatching their foes which leads into one my favorite sequences in the film, the hallway. Now, hallways are used pretty commonly throughout the film (this is an apartment complex after all) but it was the first encounter where we finally get to see Rama go to town that had me sitting there in that theater with my mouth agape at what I was witnessing. What's great about this scene though is that before he starts beating these guys down with his fists he pulls out his trusty knife with which he proceeds to create a ballet of carnage as he systematically cuts, slices, punctures and otherwise destroys each and every individual that comes his way. I had never even considered how dangerous a knife could be until witnessing this symphony of slaughter. What's even better is that after ripping these guys to shreds he loses the knife and begins to use them all as rag dolls by kicking, punching, slamming and generally pummeling them into the ground. Words cannot do justice to this sequence, it must be seen to be comprehended and truly appreciated.

Massive amounts of carnage await those who enter.

If you can believe it, that is not even the best scene in the film. I hesitate to say that there is a definitive "best" action scene because they all offer something unique. You would think that an hour and twenty minutes (minus the lead up) of constant ass kicking would eventually get tiresome, that they would run out of ways to kill or maim each other but oh boy do they prove that theory wrong every chance they get. I would go so far as to say that they even conjure up some shit you have never even heard of before. There is a showdown between three men later on in the film involving the main henchman badass for the druglord whom they call Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), that feels impossibly long yet also incredibly short but none-the-less breathtaking in all its machismo filled glory. Oh yes, did I forget to mention that? This is a movie for guys, not just any guys though, guys who don't give a shit about story lines, subplots or anything else resembling a narrative. This is a movie for guys that just want to see a bunch of other guys beat the living shit out of each other until they can't take it anymore. On that level alone, the pure adrenaline soaked action sequences that make up the bulk of the film, this film is a raging success. However, that doesn't mean it is without its problems.

My main beef or gripe with the film is something that most wouldn't even consider to be really all that significant but in reality it sort of is. I am talking about the premise of the film or more to the point the supposed premise. You see, I went into this film expecting no story, no real characters, just a series of action scenes where we got to see a steady progression as these police officers fought teeth and nail up each floor of a building bursting with criminals and hoodlums of all sorts waiting to take them out. As you can probably tell by now just about all of that was made good on...except the "each floor" part. Call me petty, call me ridiculous and call me way off the mark here but the fact that the majority of this film takes place on one single floor kind of irked me a bit (30 stories of chaos...um, not really). I am not sure what exactly I was expecting, maybe some sort of take on yet another classic Bruce Lee flick Game of Death where these cops would have to face off against a horde of enemies as they climbed the building floor by floor. Not only was The Raid promoted in a fashion that would have most people expecting such a scenario but it also seemed tailor made for such a premise. That was a slight let down to be honest.

Your standard martial arts standoff.

Is this a deal breaker? Not in the least, just a very small observation towards a film that generally gets all the other more important bits right. I suppose one could argue that the "story" is a little contrived and forced as well but I was OK with it simply because it provided me with the bare minimum bit of narrative needed to help connect all the action sequences together. Would I have preferred a more straightforward experience dealing with just the simple concept of a handful of police officers fighting for their lives? Yeah sure but I don't think what's here is all that distracting or even bad for that matter. Some other films based around a martial artist (Ong-Bak) are proof positive that it is real easy to pollute a simple premise with a silly and nonsensical plot. At least The Raid doesn't feel too forced and provides just enough extra weight to the non-stop action to allow the audience to get a little more invested in the characters than they would otherwise.

So there you have it. The Raid: Redemption is a fantastic example of action done right. I would say even if the martial arts genre of action films isn't really your thing that you should still give it a chance. The sheer energy of its cast of stuntmen (check out their credits, there were no stuntmen...only actors) and the inventive action set pieces more than make up for any issues I or anyone else could level at it. So what if it isn't perfect, almost nothing ever is, but at least it got right  what counted most. I have heard rumblings that Hollywood plans on remaking this film (and the subsequent sequels that are planned) and I truly hope that doesn't happen. Writer/Director Gareth Evans and stars/fight choreographers Iko Uwais and Yuyan Ruhian clearly have a love for the action film genre and just wanted to provide their audience with the most intense action experience they could cook up. Taken on that front I cannot think of anyone who could call The Raid anything other than a raging success. I suggest that you...




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