The Raid: Redemption. Written and directed by Gareth Evans. Starring Iko Uwais.
Rating: 7 (out of 10)
THE Raid: Redemption may be the most violent film I've ever seen. And the most beautifully choreographed. In watching the trailer you may think you've seen the film before (Assault on Precinct 13 is the film's closest cousin), but you've never seen it done quite like this.
A hit at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, The Raid: Redemption is the brainchild of Gareth Evans, who persuaded Jakarta's Iko Uwais to quit his day job and be in the movies. Their first collaboration was a documentary about Silat, the form of traditional Indonesian martial arts practised by Uwais.
Then came a feature film, Merantau, which re-introduced Silat to Indonesians used to seeing a watered-down version of the martial art on TV. After Merantau, home-grown interest in Silat surged. Look for interest here in North America after the release of The Raid, whose slim story serves mainly to propel Silat's brutal ballet from scene to scene.
The film opens with rookie cop Rama (Uwais) cleaning his gun, praying, training, and praying again. He kisses his pregnant wife goodbye, and promises his father "I'll bring him back," on the way out. Who he's looking for is a mystery.
He joins a SWAT team of nearly two dozen officers receiving instructions on route to their target. The building in question has been a police no-go zone for the past decade, home to the very worst the crime world has to offer, including the warlord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who maintains control from his penthouse hideout. Tama is the type of guy who assassinates men right there on his own rug; when he's out of bullets, he uses a hammer.
The plan is to clear the criminals from the ground up. The first few floors are easy, but then one of the child lookouts sounds the alarm. To make things worse, it becomes clear that the police aren't there to clean up, they're there as part of a private hit. Lead officer Jaka (former judo star Joe Taslim) and his men find themselves marooned, faced with going up to complete their mission or back down to try and fight their way back out.
"I'll call the neighbours," Tama tells his right-hand man Andi (Doni Alamsyah), who also happens to be Rama's brother. You don't ask for a cup of sugar from these guys: Tama takes to the building's public-address system and offers rewards for any cops killed, his voice purring as he adds, "and please, enjoy yourself."
Half the team is slaughtered right off the bat, in a stairwell ambush employing clever use of light and shadow. The most formidable fighter is Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian, who co-choreographed the fight/stunt scenes): he is an equal-opportunity fighter, willing to put down his gun and give his opponent a sporting chance, slim though it may be. The action is not for the squeamish: bad guys and good guys alike are dispatched via axes to the neck, guns to the face at close range, machetes and a barrage of beatings, though Evans knows when to pan away.
In one tense scene Rama hides behind a plywood wall while a bad guy pokes it full of holes with a machete. One stab goes through the wall, slicing Rama's cheek. Rama is able to keep from crying out and wipes the blade clean of blood before the blade is withdrawn.
If this were one long series of fights, things would get tedious quickly. However, each fight is remarkably different from the next, and Evans knows how to keep the tension high, even carving out a little family time between Rama and Andi. And lured by such a simple conceit - take the block, get out alive - we keep watching with that one goal in mind.