Written and directed by Gareth Evans. Starring Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated R. In Indonesian, with English subtitles.
Squeezing a trigger? That's like ordering takeout.
Take the closed-set claustrophobia of Die Hard, add the gritty cops versus gangsters nihilism of Assault on Precinct 13, and blend in some Indonesian machete-fu and — voila! — you have The Raid (the nonsensical "Redemption" was added by Sony Classics in hopes of creating a trilogy), a movie that's so in-your-face violent you come out of the theater feeling like it has smashed your head against the wall for an hour and 40 minutes.
Avoiding the stylized smash-cuts, jittery handheld close-ups and bombastic scoring of American action flicks, Welsh-Indonesian writer-director Gareth Evans backs his camera up and lets the bone-crunching, face-smashing barrage of savagery speak for itself in long, wide-frame shots that exhaust your eyeballs. The stunt work is astonishing, delivering hand-to-hand, fist-to-face choreography that is kinetic, fluid and complicated.
An early six-minute gun battle royal that crashes through doors and floors sets the pace for what is essentially a cinematic video game. From stairwells to hallways to scuzzy tenement apartments, good guys ascend a 30-story building fighting bad guys in breathlessly brutal one-on-one confrontations. Each is longer and more absurd than the last it until we're chuckling in disbelief at a knock-down, drag-out three-way brawl punctuated by a broken fluorescent light bulb.
To say that The Raid is slight on story or character is to overstate its commitment to drama. If there are 15 total minutes of dialogue I'd be surprised. And what dialogue there is borders on camp.
Iko Uwais plays Rama, an honest young cop who happens to be an expert at silat, an Indonesian form of martial arts that's associated with the teachings of Islam. Rama's SWAT unit is ordered to take down a crime lord who's holed up in a squalid high-rise filled with thugs, addicts and a few innocent bystanders. When their surprise assault is blown, the cops find themselves trapped — with a bounty on their heads. This sets off a cascade of blistering combat scenes as, one by one, machine gun-toting and machete-wielding goons pick them off. Of course, there are standard-issue revelations of police corruption and hidden family ties, but the story is merely a threadbare excuse to set up the next action showcase.
What Evans' direction lacks in originality, humor or style, it makes for in clarity. The Raid: Redemption confidently captures its turbo-charged carnage, avoiding the all-too-common pitfall of action movie incoherence. Whether it's a frantic hallway brawl or an impromptu gas tank-shoved-in-a-refrigerator bomb, the camera expertly whips and glides, keeping pace with every pain-inducing moment. And yet, for all Evans' skill at reining in the chaos, his movie impresses more than it excites. Relegating us to gape-jawed spectators, he only occasionally pulls us into the fray and quickens our pulse.
Nevertheless, for fans of the genre, every throat-impaling moment will be a revelation.
Showing at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456).
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.