Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The Raid: Redemption
Half Assault on Precinct 13 and half Shaw Brothers-style old school martial arts, The Raid: Redemption is an instant classic. Writer/director Gareth Evans makes a virtue of his low budget, using one location and a relatively small cast to create an atmosphere of doom-soaked claustrophobia, galvanized by a phalanx of fiercely talented and committed fighters. There are no personal assistants listed in these credits, but there’s a long list of doctors, paramedics, and massage therapists.
Supposedly set in Jakarta (who knew they had martial arts like this in Indonesia?), The Raid really takes place in that artfully underlit, merciless post-apocalyptic world we all know from movies like The Road. Its hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), is an upright SWAT-team rookie who just wants to “clean up this fucking city,” as his commanding officer, Jaka (Joe Taslim) puts it. But when they head out to arrest drug lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) in the menacing apartment building he controls, Jaka unknowingly leads his men into a trap.
No sooner have the cops infiltrated the building than Tama orders a lockdown, declaring open season on them. Orchestrating the mayhem from his top-floor apartment, he issues laconic orders over the building’s intercom to the psychopaths and lowlifes who live there, like a Rwandan DJ ordering hits on Tutsis.
At first it’s all gunplay as snipers pick off individual cops and heavily armed groups exchange fusillades of machine-gun fire. Then the cops run out of ammo, both sides start running out of men, and the ballistics give way to hand-to-hand combat—most of it unarmed, but some with machetes or knives.
The switch comes as a relief. After all, as Tama’s righthand man, the almost superhumanly talented Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), points out, guns are such crude tools. “This is what I do,” he says, after laying down his gun and before starting the first of a series of Pencak Silat (an Indonesian style of martial arts) fights that are as carefully choreographed as the Bolshoi Ballet and every bit as skillful.
Ruhian and Uwais, who choreographed the fighting, treat the building like a giant jungle gym swarming with hyperactive kids. Each floor functions like the hill in one of those war movies where the good guys win the high ground, at great cost, only to lose it again. Cops tumble out of windows during a fight to land on a fire escape several floors below, chin their way up from one floor to the next, and drop through holes in the floor to the apartments below.
Evans handles the plot just as adroitly, making it clear what’s going on while threading in enough suspense and intrigue so the fights aren’t the only thing holding our interest. The elements of the story are all familiar, but they play out in a way that feels mythic rather than derivative. The pacing is excellent too, cutting elegantly between balls-to-the-wall fighting and quieter but often equally suspenseful standoffs. And Evans, who also did his own editing, has a nice way of cutting from the middle of a highly charged scene to a little detail, like a cop’s hand shaking on the barrel of his gun, that highlights an emotion or adds a touch of humor.
The fact that there is already an American version of this film in the works makes me feel bad for anyone who can’t or won’t read subtitles. I can’t imagine an English-speaking cast that could kick ass for 101 minutes with this much intensity, athleticism, and sheer grace.
Written for The L Magazine