(No longer in theaters)
Sony Pictures Classics
Mar 23, 2012
The opening scene of The Raid: Redemption intercuts shots of a Muslim man praying with shots of him working out before donning his police uniform, saying good-bye to his very pregnant wife, and heading out to his job. We could be forgiven for seeing some political counterprogramming here: How many times have Hollywood films used a Muslim praying as an ominous sign? But because we’re in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, these shots are more likely there to let us know this guy is an average Joe — Jakarta’s equivalent of the pious Irish Catholic cop, say. Except that, of course, the man in question — Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero of this unforgettable action film — is no ordinary guy. He’s the kind of bionic, supernaturally flexible, ass-kicking hero who only comes around once every decade or so.
The idea behind The Raid is ingeniously simple: Police commandos stage a raid on an apartment complex owned and operated by a notorious drug kingpin, only for things to go neck-snappingly, head-explodingly wrong as they’re attacked by wave after wave of the junkies, gangsters, and assorted low-lives who live there. This leaves only Rama, a rookie, to fight his way out, alongside a couple of wounded comrades. That basic setup gives director Gareth Huw Evans (a Welsh transplant) and star Iwais (an Indonesian national champion in the homegrown martial art of silat) plenty of narrative space to try out every ridiculously insane stunt imaginable, executed with supreme elegance and what appears to be a minimum of cinematic trickery. (Here, when a guy gets thrown against a giant filing cabinet and holds his back in anguish afterwards, you feel his pain, and you know he does, too.)
Once the action starts — and it starts very quickly — The Raid is relentless, breathtaking in its sheer propulsive majesty. But it’s also shot through with moments of bleak poetry amid the carnage: a captured bad guy slips his bonds and slowly grabs a machete hidden under a table with all the queasy grace of a dancer trying out a new move; two men square off atop a long table festooned with drug paraphernalia, as if on a runway in the lowest circle of hell. Sometimes, the carnage is the poetry: You can practically dance to the rhythm with which people get repeatedly stabbed in the chest or smashed against walls in this film. (It also helps that the throbbing score is by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and TRON: Legacy orchestrator Joe Trapanese.)
Iwais’s eye-popping power and skill, of course, are nothing new: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li have all displayed a similar ability to combine violence with dancerly precision. But Iwais doesn’t have the effervescence of Chan; he’s an altogether more brooding presence, which is perhaps appropriate, because Evans doesn’t seem interested in making a cartoon along the lines of, say, Supercop or Drunken Master 2. The director has an eye for building anticipation, giving the violence some unexpected weight. At one point, the chief villain runs out of bullets while executing a series of nameless captives; the next victim in line breathes a sigh of relief, only to have the bad guy go to his desk and return with a hammer. At another point, Rama has to hide quietly while another baddie unwittingly slices his cheek open. These are sensational moments, but they hurt, too. Like Tarantino, Evans knows how to tease us; he understands the inherent attraction and repulsion of violence. We don’t want to see these things, and yet we really, really want to see these things. The Raid, about as pure an action film as you’re ever likely to see, wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It does.
On the rise: The Raid: Redemption will surely make a star out of its lead, Iko Uwais, who displays grace, charisma, and athleticism in equal measure.