So here is a funny thing. For a few weeks now a film has been advertised on the TV called “The Raid: Redemption”, with not an awful lot of screen time shown, but glowing tub-thumbing quotes from reviewers. I also noticed it was doing quite well in the UK Box Office (though to be honest, If you are not in the Top 2, you really are not making very much money at all). Imagine my surprise then, when I realised, that although the Director is a Welshman, it is actually an Indonesian language film – with SUBTITLES (no mention of this is made in the TV advert – and after the recent mini-media storm over cinema-goers not realising that “The Artist” was a silent film, I thought my fellow countrymen might need a little more spoon-feeding). But, it sounded like just the kind of film I should have a look at, and so I did!
“The Raid: Redemption” has a very simple storyline. Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the biggest Crime lord in Jakarta, has set up shop in a rundown apartment building. Not only that, but he has made it a haven for his subordinate lowlifes and ne’er-do-wells. A place so scary then, that other crime families or the Police dare not enter it. Until now that is, when a 20 man SWAT team are sent in to clean it up. Part of the team is the rookie Rama (Iko Uwais), who has left his pregnant wife at home to be part of this mission, for rather personal (albeit secret) reasons. Initially the assault goes well, as the team slowly clear the building one floor at a time. However, as expected, their silent assault cover is blown, and the full force of the inhabitants are wreaked upon our heroes. A bloodbath ensues, leaving only 5 (including Rama) are left behind. And then it turns out that there will be no support, no backup, as this mission is not as formally sanctioned as the team had assumed!
The first portion of the film is pretty much like a computer game like “Call of Duty”, “Modern Combat” or one of those numerous Tom Clancy inspired First Person Shooters. Faceless soldiers shooting and blasting and swearing a lot. When the s*** hits the fan, it morphs to something a little different, focussing on the outrageous Martial arts skills of Iko Uwais (amongst others). This is a smart move, because up to that point I could hardly work out who any of the good guys were. Director Gareth Evans is smart enough to let his star (who also doubles as action designer and director) take up most of the screen time after that point, with some well choreographed, blood, violent and smartly shot action. Eschewing the modern style of extreme close up and choppy quick cutting, Evans allows the action to be viewed properly, whilst letting us feel every punch and kick.
The problem is, that’s pretty much all there is to it. After the first 20 minutes the film basically goes like this:
- Small scene where two or three characters have some testosterone-fueled conversation about what is going on.
- Slightly longer scene where Uwais or one of the bad guys kicks all kinds of ass rather graphically.
- Repeat the above for an hour.
There really is little more story than that. Sure Rama, is actually there to reconcile with his long lost brother (Donny Alamsyah) who turns out to be one of the right hand men to the Crime lord, but no real effort is made to explain the back story between the two. Nor is it ever really explained that Rama had worked hard to get on this mission. Most characters are pretty one dimensional and frankly rather faceless (even our Crime lord lacks a real degree of menace – though I did like the fact he was not a super Martial Artist and therefore not the ultimate end of level boss). The fact he has taken on this incredibly dangerous mission even though he has a baby on the way is mentioned but hardly explored. The corrupt Lieutenant who has managed to create this mission without buy-in from his bosses is given no real motivation (even now some hours later, I am not sure quite what he was ever trying to achieve). There are only two female characters, who both lay prone and pregnant and offer nothing more than comments like “don’t get involved”.
Yeah, it is THAT kind of movie.
But you know what? That’s totally ok.
The acting on the whole is decent enough, if not exceptional. Iko Uwais is certainly a handsome and brooding presence, and his Martial Arts skills are very impressive, but to be honest he lacks the Charisma and Charm that you really need to be able to carry a film. The best character is the other right-hand man – Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), who is just a fantastic (and equally martially skilled) character, lithe and dirty and has all the best lines and moments (“Pulling a trigger is like ordering a takeout”).
This is a violent action popcorn film that does exactly what it sets out to – to provide a thrill-a-minute blast, showcasing some top class martial arts action, dressed up in a somewhat unusual urban setting. It lacks depth and heart, but the 100 minutes passes quickly and it certainly entertains. So despite how the review come across, this one is a surprise Recommended. All I hope is tat the planned US remake does not happen, and Evans does not get tempted to make too many sequels – he has an obvious talent, I would hate to see him become sidelined.