Movie Review - The Raid: Redemption
By Matthew Huntley
April 5, 2012
The Raid: Redemption is a goofy action movie with a serious tone, which should tell you where it goes wrong. The combination leaves us with a series of mind-numbing fight scenes, most of which are so extreme and elongated they either make us laugh or cringe. The only problem is the filmmakers don’t seem to be in on the joke. They view the material as real and serious, prompting us to laugh at it even more. And if we’re not laughing at the movie, we’re sometimes bored by it.
Like most wall-to-wall action movies, the plot of The Raid is merely a platform on which the actors and stuntmen perform their tricks. Or at least that’s what it is to us; the filmmakers may see it as something more.
The hero is Rama (Iko Uwais), a young, honorable man with an expectant wife, traits that immediately paint him with sympathy and likability. He’s a rookie member of a SWAT team and their mission is to take down one of Indonesia’s leading drug dealers in a heavily guarded apartment building. The drug lord’s name is Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and his complex is chock full of henchmen willing to die in order to carry out his bidding just so they can continue to live there, though it’s hard to figure out why since the place looks like it should be condemned. Perhaps Tama’s subordinates are too strung out on whatever Tama is dealing that they’ve failed to notice the living conditions. Regardless, with their guns and machetes in hand, they make for perfectly serviceable bad guys, which is really their only purpose.
It probably goes without saying the movie has no original characters or any with personalities worth investing in, and they speak only the most basic dialogue. Normally when it comes to goofy action, this would be acceptable, but “The Raid” has the nerve to ask us to view its plot and people earnestly and see them beyond just pawns of the action and violence. But what it actually does with them versus what it asks of us doesn’t mix.
Once everything is set in motion and the SWAT captain (Joe Taslim) discovers his team is on their own in what essentially becomes a no-rules war zone, the action begins and pretty much doesn’t let up for 90 minutes. Rama and his fellow soldiers of the law are outnumbered and left alone to hide out and try to escape. Their only chance may be Rama’s ally working from the inside.
Are the fight scenes impressive? From a technical point of view, yes, especially when you consider the skills and stamina the actors and stuntmen must possess in order to make them look convincing, not to mention the amount of choreography that must have gone into every setup. But from a narrative perspective, the action bears little consequence to us. Because we don’t care about anyone involved (not even Rama I’m afraid) or think much of the thin story, watching men throw one another against walls and through windows, or stab each other with broken bottles and machetes, etc., has a very limited entertainment range.
Sure, some of this hits us on a visceral level and we jump in our seats saying, “Oh” and “Ah,” but these are just knee jerk reactions that are mostly empty. We did the same thing when the Joker slammed a man head-first into a pencil in The Dark Knight, but the difference is that action revealed something about the character and his psychosis. The point is action and violence need a purpose, no matter the type of movie.
That’s not so much the case here, where the fight scenes seem to go on and on…and on, often to the point of boring us. After a while, we become desensitized to even the most extreme shots and we’re no longer reacting to what’s on-screen. We’re just waiting, and hoping, for a cut to a different location to break up the monotony. Director Gareth Evans relinquishes tension in favor of more punching, kicking, throwing, rolling, etc., all of which are accompanied by loud, undistinguished sound effects on the soundtrack.
I say all this, and yet most fans of the genre will go into The Raid hoping this is what they get, but I think even the most ardent action aficionados will find it tiresome after a while. The movie has relentless energy, but it’s not harnessed in such a way that it becomes inspired or creative; it’s more comparable to a little kid on a sugar rush running around in circles. The movie wants to be serious but it’s too goofy to be plausible on that level. In the end, this is just a brainless action movie, but there are better brainless action movies out there, some of which are so inventive and charismatic they raise themselves up to the level of artistry (Kung Fu Hustle). The Raid: Redemption sits on a lower tier.