A film review by Craig J. Koban August 28, 2012
THE RAID REDEMPTION
2012, R, 101 mins.
2012, R, 101 mins.
Rama: Iko Uwais / Jaka: Joe Taslim /
Mad Dog: Yayan Ruhian
In Indonesian, with English subtitles
RAID REDEMPTION - not to be confused with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - has
no time for developing characters, an underlining story, or any semblance
of dramatic interest. It
seems to be mostly concerned with presenting the most nauseatingly
disgusting manners of inflicting pain on the human body.
The film is utterly awash in endless, merciless, and frequently
stomach-churning violence and carnage that initially showcases a mass
execution of several people and then finally culminates with hardly anyone
left standing alive. THE RAID
REDEMPTION is so fascinated with its inherent brutality that it comes off
more as one brutal and long extended fight demo reel than a full fledged
That's not to say, however, that there isn't any craft to be seen here. Many in the film world heralded this Indonesian slaughterhouse effort – directed with a borderline medical precision by Welsh-born Gareth Evans – as one of the most innovative and thrilling action films of recent times. I will not attempt to argue with the former descriptor: THE RAID REDEMPTION, to its credit, absconds away from the limitlessly overused queasy-cam and hyperactive editorial overkill that has permeated so many mainstream Hollywood action films and instead presents all of its choreographed mayhem with a crisp precision and atypical clarity. Without any shaky cam hysterics, the action flows from scene to scene with an unfussy lucidity.
for the thrilling part? Well,
THE RAID REDEMPTION is thrilling in the sense that it has a propulsive and
non-stop energy, but it never once emerges as a tension-filled experience
because it has no characters of depth to latch on to and root for.
The film is so hopelessly void of humanity that, within a very
short time, it becomes clear that the characters here are just puppets to
cater to Evans’ penchant for non-stop sadism. The
plot is a cookie cutter affair, to be sure, only establishing the core
rudimentary elements necessary for the film to not carry the moniker of a
snuff effort. A SWAT team – lead by Rama (Iko Uwais) enters an 15-story
apartment complex that is ruled over by a vicious drug lord (Ray Sahetapy)
to remove him, the only problem being is that the building has never been raided
before and has never had a police presence infiltrate it.
Worse yet, the complex houses the worst scum of humanity that
society has spit out. The
courageous SWAT members enter from the first floor and then have to fight
their way up one floor at a time before finally confronting the kingpin.
seen old school, side-scrolling video games from the 1980's Nintendo era with more of a narrative that
this film. The hero of THE
RAID REDEMPTION, so to speak, is a charisma-free creation whose chief and defining
characteristic is that he can really, really defend himself and kill
people using every part of his body (highlighting the Indonesian martial
art “pencak silat” in all of its head bashing, limb-breaking, and
blood spewing glory). Some
of his opponents have guns of various sizes, whereas others use machetes,
knifes, and just about anything handy that can be used to end life quickly.
One particular heavy working for the drug lord, Mad Dog (Yayan
Ruhian) has a strict no-shooting policy when it comes to exterminating his
opponents (“Squeezing a trigger? That’s
like ordering takeout!”), but he does relish in murdering people in
close quartered combat. The
final battle pitting this savage monster versus the intrepid and
determined cop hero seems only inevitable.
If only the cop had…I dunno…a brother on the inside that works
as the drug lord’s right hand man that would turn on his employer and
team up with his long estranged sibling?
the battle sequences – which involves everything from dismemberings,
impalings, shootings, body parts of various sorts being contorted, crushed,
and reduced to bloody messes in all
manners gruesome, etc. - are certainly a sight to behold from a technical
perspective. The fight
choreographers (in this case, the film’s stars Uwais and Ruhian), certainly know what
they’re doing (they planned well in advance of shooting for over four months)
and certainly give these oftentimes-sickening scenes a feverous pace that
never seems to lose momentum. Complimented
their work is the look of the film’s apartment building itself, which is
a dark, drab, dilapidated, and wholeheartedly unwelcoming place of
nightmarish proportions. THE
RAID REDEMPTION always maintains an uneasy atmosphere of dread throughout.
the film is dramatically negligible at every turn.
It's very high – make that exceedingly high – on testosterone-induced
and teeth-clenched adrenaline – but there is little to no
suspense to be had. The
storyline, as stated, is just a wobbly, disinteresting, and tedious
framework to hold up the rampant and gory fisticuffs. Even when the narrative does manage to slow down and breaks
for the obligatory moments of characters contemplating their next move (by the way,
characters speak very, very little here), it quickly
devolves back into numbing chaos within minutes.
Iko Uwais is certainly a very talented and dexterous martial arts
dynamo, but he – lack Tony Jaa before him – has no real charisma or personality:
he’s just a instrument of pain and death, which is odd seeing as he is a
law enforcer. No other film
has shown the police maliciously using willful excessive force as THE RAID
It’s funny, but when movies contain sexuality and eroticism that approach pornographic levels they get slapped with an immediate NC-17 rating, but when films like THE RAID REDEMPTION have pornographic violence they seem to get by with an R; I smell an obvious double standard here. The film’s non-stop barrage of intensely repellent savagery becomes more anaesthetizing and exhausting than exhilarating. So many people - oh-so-many - cherished THE RAID REDEMPTION as a hypodermic needle to the heart of the action genre, but I left the film feeling wholly beaten down by it like many of Rama’s unfortunate opponents. As an exercise in style, Evans' film is an unqualified triumph; beyond that, it's an emotionally empty experience. It made me think fondly of more innocent and endearingly thrilling chopsocky actioners of the past populated by the likes of Jackie Chan, who made us marvel at his Spider-man-like reflexes and gravity defying kung-fu while, at the same time, playing characters that were crafty, funny, goofy, and, most importantly, appealing. His films showcased violence, to be sure, but they didn’t unhealthily champion and celebrate it with a lingering eye for appalling detail.
I fear that if Chan watched THE RAID REDEMPTION he wouldn’t like what he saw.