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The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)


The impressive Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption, directed by Gareth Evans, opens with a shot of a gun and a ticking watch, giving the impression that it will be something of a thriller. Instead, it’s a full-out action epic, with what are probably the best martial arts fight scenes seen on screen in the last few years. Featuring a slim plot that seems entirely remake-ready, The Raid charges headlong into a series of elaborately choreographed face-offs between a SWAT team who are invading a kingpin’s illicit apartment building and the junkies and thugs who live there. Director Evans goes for the visceral here, emphasizing the brutality of each hit and frequently focusing on gory outcomes of fights. The film alternates between flat out rumbles (many of which approach Romper Stomper’s violent climax in scale and intensity) and more measured moments. The latter are somewhat less successful, as is a decision to put a trio of extended dialogue scenes in the movie’s back half, but this is undeniably kinetic and definitely the work of a filmmaker with incredible action chops.


Indeed, from a technical point of view, this is extremely accomplished and doubly stirring stuff, especially once one considers its Indonesian origin. It is mildly disappointing that the script here is not as strong, but at least there is less time devoted to clichéd characterizations than in the average kung-fu movie. Perhaps more troubling, at least on a second viewing, is the impression that there is little tension to be found here. The action exists for its own sake, emphasizing brutality over any real sense of danger. Once it becomes apparent who the lead characters are, the plot shifts to autopilot. The conventionality of the narrative arc may not detract from Evans’ genuine accomplishments in his fight scenes, but it does lower the stakes somewhat. Even a “surprise” betrayal in the film’s third act takes on the smell of obligation. These complaints have not been offered to dissuade anyone from seeing what is probably the best martial arts film in the last few years, but rather are intended to describe why the otherwise superlative The Raid: Redemption falls short of the classic status that seems well within its reach at times.



Jeremy Heilman