The fifteen-story apartment complex is run-down. Windows are broken, the paint is peeling, and bricks are crumbling. From the outside, this moderate high-rise looks like just another housing development in the skid row of Jakarta, Indonesia. It is more than that, though. Much more. This building is a black hole of death for outsiders who stray into its confines. Lurking in the shadows of dank corridors and concrete stairwells are humans fiercely devoted to protecting one man: the unmerciful drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy).
On one rainy day, this drug lord is the target of 20 elite SWAT team members who sneak into the fifteen-story building and make it to the sixth floor before their cover is blown. Then things get sticky: with the blood of men. Tama has great security. Forget the Comcast security system that goes “beep.” For starters, Tama has two right hand men who hang out with him in his office on the top floor: the near-psychotic Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), and the brains behind the building’s security monitors, cameras, and intercom system, Andi (Doni Alamsyah). Then there are the building’s tenants, men who wield machetes and machine guns and will spill blood in Tama’s name because the drug lord is offering them a lifetime rent-free residency if they can dispose of the police invaders.
Once the onslaught of tenants begins, the SWAT team’s numbers are cut down, in quite the literal sense. One member of the team, a young rookie named Rama (Iko Uwais), refuses to have his flesh and bones cut up into bite-size pieces. Rama’s motivation: he has a pregnant wife at home who needs him. Along with the team leader Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and a couple of others, Rama takes the fight to the thugs in an effort to reach the top floor, capture Tama, and get the hell out of the building with all body parts intact.
If you asked me right now to come up with a movie that has better choreographed fight scenes than the ones that jump off the screen in The Raid: Redemption, I could not give you a name because nothing that I’ve seen can beat what Uwais and company do here. When Rama is charged by enemies in narrow hallways and spacious living rooms he relies on his body as much as his gun and knife to live through the skirmishes. Rama is well versed in pencak silat, a native Indonesian martial arts form that utilizes elbows, forearms, palms, and knees in quick strikes and deflections. He uses this form of martial arts to hit the necks, the backs of knees, and the kidneys of his opponents.
These fights are fluid. Director and screenwriter Gareth Evans and fight choreographers Ruhian and Uwais (both also star in the film) create body bashes that bring up conflicting emotions in viewers. It’s hard to hear bones crunch and watch people get stabbed in the stomach, but at the same time there is symmetry between the fighters because they match each other blow for blow with smart, calculated, quick hits.
Accompanying the action bouts is a reverberating musical score composed by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Joesph Trapanese. This is one of those movies where the music isn’t just background filler; it moves the plot forward with unnerving resolve. Largely comprised of techno-beats and heart-pumping bass, the music gradually gets louder and faster as the film progresses. Tension materializes in one scene where Jaka and two fellow team members are hiding in a room off a hallway. In the hall, a bad guy clicks his machete against the wall, as he gets closer to the room. Close-ups are shown of Jaka’s hand gripping his knife. Meanwhile, a steady bass beat increases volume with each step the bad guy takes, making an already stressful situation darn near unbearable to watch. But watch I did, and I was not disappointed.
This film was shot and edited to fit a fast-paced action movie. Cameras jiggle when SWAT members are frantically diving for cover; close-ups are shown of SWAT members’ sunken, distraught faces when they realize they’re on a suicide mission; and fights are sometimes given the slow, 360 degree rotation treatment. Evans edited in addition to his other duties, and he allows the camera to linger on a scene long enough for us to feel whatever emotion he wishes to immerse us in: fear, anger, sadness, despair; they all get a turn at taking your brain by siege.
The Raid’s only weakness may be that its characters are not explored enough to add another layer of sentiment to the movie. Evans wrote this as a stripped down, no-punches-pulled action bonanza, though, and it’s a script that exists to keep things moving full-speed ahead. Evans’s characters continually brawl for their lives in an almost animalistic state. Perhaps this is the setting where true, raw emotion is shown rather than the glossy facades that characters in other action movies have.
I give The Raid: Redemption 4.5 stars out of 5, an A-.
The Raid: Redemption is rated R, has a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, and was given a limited release in the United States beginning March 23, 2012.