So remember when I said I wouldn’t be doing any more movie reviews for a while? In the words of Arnold Schwartzenegger, “I lied”. I did not realize that it would be impossible to resist movies on demand for an eight hour flight in which the screen was right in front of me. So, here goes my review for the 2012 Indonesian martial arts masterpiece The Raid: Redemption. I would like to note that I am currently writing this review from about 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, I like to think of it as the blogging version of the Mile High Club.
Anyways, where was I. Oh yes, my review for The Raid: Redemption, aka Fighting, Fighting, Twist, Fighting, Twist, and EVEN MORE FIGHTING. I saw this movie on Rotten Tomatoes earlier this year but was unable to catch it in theaters while it was out. It’s been some time since I’ve gotten my martial arts fix (Probably the last real movie I’ve seen that would count towards that Category was Ong Bak 2 on Netflix) and I decided to give this one a go. While I completely understand why some people might find its plentiful action scenes to be too long and overly plentiful, The Raid: Redemption the perfect mix of beautifully choreographed fight scenes and engaging plot developments that made me completely forget that I was stuck in a window seat of a plane for two hours (which was good because distractions help when you are blocked from using the restroom by your sleeping row-mates for an extended period of time).
Of all the things I expected of this movie, a fleshed out story line was not one of them, and in that expectation I was proven wrong at every turn. The trailer I had seen set up the premise and displayed snippets of the action therein but did not elaborate on any plot element beyond the first five minutes or so of the film. As a side note I greatly appreciate trailers that do this because there have been far too many decent movies spoiled by over-revealing promotional material. In any case, the set-up is fairly straightforward in that our protagonist Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie on the Jakarta police force who leaves his pregnant wife behind for his latest assignment. That assignment is to raid a large apartment complex known to house notorious crime lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who for years has help back police incursion on his territory and harbored fugitives in the apartment complex which he uses as his base of operations. For reasons unknown, Rama’s squad has been ordered to break that hold and take out Tama once and for all. As they make their way up the building’s many levels however, they realize that they have walked into a trap and, after being considerably thinned in numbers, the surviving members of the team fight for their lives against the horde of criminals that occupy the place. As time goes by though we are lead to believe that not all is as it seems and the motivations of people on both sides are called into question.
The Players: Let’s face it, martial arts films aren’t known for having very well-developed characters. This is usually no accident as the primary focus of films like The Raid: Redemption is not as engrossing human-centered chronicles but as adrenaline fueled all-out-assault on the viewer’s senses. Because of this I would have judged this movie as a success even if it had featured little to no character development, but as it was in the case of the story I was equally surprised in this department. Many of the supporting characters are admittedly pretty shallow, but even so I never got the feeling that I was just watching a collection of cheap action movie stereotypes. There is a great deal of the character development that I can’t go into without spoiling some major plot points, but I can tell you that Rama is one of the best action protagonists I have seen in quite some time. He is the main way that the movie manages to stay interesting in between fight scenes, and between his connection to his wife and unborn child and his protective instincts toward his fellow officers, Uwais consistently gives the film a sort of human connectivity that elevates the film above other entries into the genre.
The Action: As I said above, this is where I expected the most from the movie and it did not disappoint in the slightest. While some more artistically inclined moviegoers may get annoyed at the percentage of the movie that is taken up solely by fight scenes (I’d have to say it’s at least 60%), there has always been something about martial arts in the movies that holds my attention in ways that extend beyond the “beat-em-up” appeal of your average action flick. When The Raid: Redemption breaks into a fight scene, it does so with such force that you simply cannot look away. I tend to use the word “visceral” a lot when describing various aspects of movies, but whatever I’ve used it to describe before it hasn’t been as fitting an adjective as it is here. The combat is expertly choreographed in every scene, and even though you know as you’re watching that the people on screen are merely actors I challenge anyone who has watched this film to find a brawl that doesn’t feel real. Rama routinely takes on four to five opponents at a time and every fight is an engrossing mix of desperation and almost and almost dance-like flow of violent motion.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 Pretty Damn Great
The Raid: Redemption is a shining example of how Martial Arts can be combined with intelligent film making to produce a film that succeeds on multiple levels of entertainment and smart story telling. Like so many other similar films before it, it showcases the fighting style as an fluid) mix of violence and true “art”, giving the viewer a true appreciation of the human body not just as collections of flesh, blood and bone but as condition-able weapons. Bottom line, if you have never enjoyed a martial arts movie (Kung Fu, Karate, etc.) then you might be bored by the overabundance of the movie’s displays of it, but you will still find plenty to wrap your mind around in the cases of story and characters.