The second feature of British expat director Gareth Huw Evans has been received as a sucker punch to the modern action movie, thanks to its gut-wrenching ultra-graphic violence and its almost complete absence of plot. And, strictly speaking, those responses are utterly correct. The film works within the strict framework of the low-budget action thriller, mixing elements from classic B-movie plots, last-stand westerns, police procedurals and martial arts films with shades of the golden age of Hong Kong action cinema (from Johnnie To's balletic mechanisms to the Infernal Affairs trilogy's reversals of good and evil). Mr. Evans' tour-de-force (screened in the 2012 international version, with a propulsive new score by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese) spins a basic cops vs. robbers tale into a no holds-barred orgy of kinetic action set-pieces tangentially connected to the survival horror movie.

     This is because the film's key is survival: a Jakarta SWAT team launches a raid on the apartment building where a crime lord has his HQ, only to find themselves trapped inside and mercilessly chased by the thugs and henchmen, having to devise ways to stay alive and escape the death trap. Yes, it is clear that the narrative logic of the video game is present in the film - in many ways, its plot is a basic series of missions to fulfill in order to unblock the next level - but it's equally clear that this is not a Hollywood shoot-'em-up. There are little to none CGI enhancements, with impressive, old-fashioned stunt work and practical effects showing off the often chilling, unpleasant, bone-crushing, blood-spurting violence; the matter-of-fact presentation and focus on action to the detriment of plot also helps ground the film's ultra-violent fight scenes in a gritty, take-no-prisoners and give-no-quarter reality.

     Therein, however, lies The Raid: Redemption's central problem: the sheer relentlessness of the violence quickly numbs the viewer and becomes nightmarish, especially when it's pinned on such a basic plot structure, even as it holds a mirror to its audience, saying "you have come for exhilaratingly presented violence, and you will get more than you bargained for". That Mr. Evans seems to just go with the action flow rather than elaborate on that mirror aspect should not be held against him (even if it reduces The Raid: Redemption to the status of a strict adrenaline rush): there is no denying the director's sweeping dexterity in setting the film's pace and rhythm with so much assurance and bravado.

Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy, Tegar Satrya, Iang Darmawan, Eka "Piranha" Rahmadia, Verdi Solaiman

Director, writer and editor: Gareth Huw Evans
Cinematography: Matt Flannery, Dimas Imam Subhonia (colour)
Art director: Moti D. Setyanto
Wardrobe: Upay Maryani
Fight choreography: Mr. Uwais, Mr. Rahian and Mr. Evans
Music: Mike Shinoda, Joseph Trapanese
Producer: Ario Sagantoro (Merantau Films in association with Celluloid Nightmares and XYZ Films)
Indonesia/France/USA, 2011, 101 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, September 10th 2012


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