“The Raid: Redemption” has the most misleading title of any movie I’ve seen this year. Don’t get me wrong, there is a raid in this movie. What’s missing is the redemption part, because that implies there is some sense of character development and emotional discovery that the characters must deal with. Instead, this Indonesian film directed by the young Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans is more than happy to provide wall-to-wall, gleefully over-the-top action that is undeniably impressive, but the technique is not enough to make up for the gaping hole where this film’s soul should be.
“The Raid” is about a SWAT team in Indonesia, led by virtuous rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) and the grizzled, duplicitous Lt. Jaka (Joe Taslim) who learn that the notorious drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) is holed up in the top floor of a run-down apartment building with his gallery of homicidal maniacs. The SWAT team, which has no communication with their precinct, storm the building to bring Tama to justice. As a result, gun-rattling, blood-spraying, neck-breaking hilarity ensues, with the cops doing battle with the gangsters on every floor, working their way up to Tama himself.
“The Raid” isn’t just wall-to-wall action. It’s wall-to-stairwell, wall-to-ceiling, wall-to-window, wall-to-everything. And as far as the action goes “The Raid” is a tour-de-force of action choreography, for a while at least. Evans’ fight scenes and gun battles are immaculately filmed and edited, free from the incoherence of shaky-cam. Everything moves lightning fast, aiming to make the frequent snapping of necks, slashing of jugular veins and all-out destruction tearing across the screen incredibly easy to understand. The choppy editing and shaky camerawork in modern action films have made filmmakers lazy (Paul Greengrass being the exception), as they don’t have to take the time to fully implement some artistry into the chaos. Evans understands this, and he has a bright future in this genre.
For a while, “The Raid” is thrilling in its technique, despite the lack of story, compelling characters, or any of that boring stuff. But this movie started to remind me of the 20-minute drum solo “Moby Dick,” by Led Zeppelin. Sure, John Bonham’s technique is something to behold, but after minute 5 you just want to hear a fucking song already. All of the well-made action, with no interludes or any thematic substance running underneath, becomes numbing really quickly. To inverse a famous quote, “all play and no work makes ‘The Raid’ a dull movie.” Through sheer repetition it transforms from a wild exercise into a dumb video game.
The movie tries to add some depth to the sketch of the story, by making Rama’s brother a member of Tama’s gang, but it’s too cliched and hastily dealt with to add the necessary gravitas. The only memorable performance comes from Sahetapy as Tama, who tears into the role to create a truly sadistic villain. But he’s the only semblance of humanity anywhere in this thing. This movie reminded me a lot of Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down,” which also had a constant barrage of battle that grew weary due to a lack of characters or narrative. Throw in the generic techno score by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and the cringe-inducing dialogue (Evans also wrote the script), and you have a film that deflates like a souffle over the course of 102 minutes.
If all of these shortcomings don’t bother you and you just are an action-movie junkie, “The Raid” is definitely worth seeing. Just the smallest amount of non-synthetic involvement from anything in this film could have been it’s saving grace. Evans is definitely an extraordinary talent, but the frustration that comes from “The Raid” can be summed up, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, as all ass-kicking frosting, and no cake.