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Movie Review

The Raid: Redemption

Savage dance of death, one floor at a time

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 30, 2012
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"The Raid: Redemption" is poised at the midway point between an ultraviolent video game and a neo-classic dance musical. As midnight-movie mash-ups go, it’s pretty amazing.

Choreographed with jaw-dropping style by Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans, this kinetic Indonesian action orgy proceeds according to a set-up almost mathematical in its exactness. A crime lord named Tama (Ray Sahetapy) sits in his fortress in the penthouse of a monolithic Jakarta apartment building. A van full of cops in full SWAT gear pulls up in front. Between them and him are 15 floors of video surveillance cameras, very angry men with machetes and machine guns, one runty killer named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), and a handful of surprises. That’s it; when the survivors emerge 100 minutes later, the movie’s over.

So, yes, “The Raid’’ may be the first action movie since the original “Die Hard’’ to come with actual levels, and since the movie periodically stops dead for baroque pas de deux of hand-to-hand combat, you may find yourself reaching for the joystick. Yet Evans gives us enough of a satisfying human story to keep us hooked. The film’s hero and breakout action figure is Rama (Iko Uwais), a wide-eyed rookie policeman whose fighting skills and sense of civic duty are equally exemplary.

Uwais’s quick-witted innocence is irresistible, but the other characters fall into more familiar types: the hard-bitten, incorruptible police sergeant (Joe Taslim); his cowardly superior officer (Pierre Gruno); the dead-weight wounded cop who has to be rescued at all costs (Tegar Satrya). On the other side of the ledger, Sahetapy isn’t terribly formidable as the kingpin, but Doni Alamsyah as Andi, Tama’s clever second-in-command, becomes an increasingly sympathetic figure the more we learn about him, and Ruhian as the villain’s chief enforcer is the closest the movies may ever come to a live-action Tasmanian devil.

Not yet 30, Evans is a master of visceral tension and release. “The Raid’’ repeatedly slows down, gathers force, and rushes forward using all the elements of filmmaking at a director’s disposal: editing’s ability to expand and contract time; the camera’s gift for revealing information through motion and light; a good musical score (by Joseph Trapanese and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda) that can cue audiences to respond or just play with their heads. At times, “The Raid’’ feels like pure cinema.

At other times - sometimes at the same time - it just feels like men beating the crap out of each other. The particular martial art on display here is the Indonesian form known as pencak silat, which, to the uninformed eye (mine and possibly yours), looks like a combination of kickboxing and the world’s most dangerous sissyfight. “The Raid’’ is definitely not for delicate sensibilities, and the early scene in which Tama executes a few rivals at gunpoint, runs out of bullets, shrugs, and reaches for the hammer will weed out the weenies. Instead of lingering on gore, though, Evans tends to edit around it, and while the movie is hellaciously violent, the mayhem serves the story rather than the other way around.

Except for the set-piece fight sequences. Both ingeniously choreographed and adhering to classic Bruce Lee tropes (why do villains always come at the hero one at a time?), the fights pit the heroic Rama against dozens of attackers in staccato bursts of flying limbs and crashing furniture. In the climactic sequence, Mad Dog takes on two of the good guys - Rama and a player to be named later - in a donnybrook that goes on so long you lose sight of the stakes, the characters, everything but the brutal image of men trying to kill each other with dance. It’s a little mind-numbing - you may long for the words “FINISH HIM’ to come up on the screen - at the same time it comes this close to abstract art. “The Raid’’ is an action painting in real time.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

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THE RAID: Redemption

Written and directed by: Gareth Evans

Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Ray Sahetapy

At: Boston Common, Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square, Embassy Waltham

Running time: 100 minutes

Rated: R (strong brutal bloody violence throughout, language)

In Indonesian, with English subtitles

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