If any movie runs the risk of getting overhyped these days, it must surely be The Raid: Redemption. Since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, critics the world over seem to be declaring it the second coming of Assault on Precinct 13, or at least Ong Bak. That’s a heavy burden to place on any movie: the promise of the ultimate action thrills, sight unseen. So it is with a solemn fortitude that I must present my assessment of Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action thriller, and declare that it is totally f*cking awesome… to a fault.
So what is The Raid?
The Raid: Redemption is one of those action movies that defies storytelling convention, focusing entirely on its set up and the fistfights and shootouts that follow. The film stars Iko Uwais as Rama, a rookie SWAT team member whose squad has been assigned to infiltrate a black market hotel populated by dangerous thugs. Their mission is to reach the top of the building and apprehend a maniacal crime lord, but the element of surprise is lost, and they are besieged on all sides by machete and machine gun wielding maniacs. There’s a plot point or two, explaining why they can’t call for backup and the “unexpected” backstory of one of the villain’s henchmen, but that, basically, is it. They have to fight their way out, and it takes a long, long time.
In lieu of a proper plot, with twists and turns and meaningful chains of events, writer/director Evans emphasizes the seemingly impossible struggle of his protagonists against an unending swarm of largely personality-free opponents. Fortunately, Evans is capable of culling together a string of uncompromisingly exhilarating action sequences, mostly in dangerously close quarters that force him to exercise his (apparently ample) creativity to keep The Raid involving. The seemingly nonstop life or death situations our heroes wind up in are uniformly intense and strikingly well choreographed, leaving most of the film feeling like the perfect rollercoaster: one that doesn’t make me vomit. But then again I have a sensitive tummy.
I also have a sensitive eye for pacing, and unfortunately even Evans can’t quite overcome the growing malaise that this kind of chockablock kickassery brings. In the relative absence of character development and (God forbid) subplots, even as propulsive an experience as The Raid grows wearisome over time. Evans deserves credit for keeping his film fresh for well over an hour, but by the time the third act rolls around even the most spectacular fight sequence feels like more of the same. Comparable thrill-a-minute films like District B13 had at least a modicum of story development to fall back on, keeping the film moving forward while giving the audience enough of a breather to make the eventual return to martial arts insanity a welcome sight, but all The Raid seems to muster is a meaningful conversation or two before it’s back to basics.
Still, The Raid – or as it must be called in the U.S., The Raid: Redemption (stupid copyright laws) – suffers only from offering too much of a good thing, like an all night bender on the finest whisky, or at least an overwhelming Halloween sugar binge. For action fans, the simplicity and craftsmanship of The Raid will come as a happy reprieve from the typical Hollywood CGI nonsense. This is the rawest and most intense action spectacle we’ve seen from any country in years, but it fails to grasp the importance of balancing badassery with at least a little maturity. You can call that a glowing endorsement if you want, but I call it just short of perfection.