I don’t really go in for action or fight movies. I got my fill of martial arts stuff with a brief Van Damme obsession in the early 90s. I gave a Bruce Lee a classic a go and respected it without really loving it. All of that is to say that it takes a lot buzz and critical hype for me to take notice of anything too action or fight based. And in the case of The Raid Redemption, it took several years of relentless buzz and critical hype, plus the recent release of its sequel, before I finally caved in. Now, as I sit here with my mind still smouldering, all I can wonder is, why didn’t I just believe everyone and watch this years ago?
Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie Jarkarta cop, gets ready for work and kisses his heavily pregnant wife goodbye after promising her that he’ll stay safe at work that day. So of course, he has an uneventful, boring day, before returning home to her. Oh wait, sorry, this is an action movie, so of course this clunky, clichéd introduction to the character of Rama means he’s about to have the worst day in the history of Indonesian policemen. Thankfully, that’s the only real misstep The Raid: Redemption takes, and the following 90 minutes or so is balls out amazing.
Under the direction of the squad leader Sergeant Jaka (Joe Tslim), and shifty looking Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), a squad of cops, including Rama, plan to seize a high rise slum, controlled by local crime boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Because Tama rents his building out almost exclusively to Jakarta criminals looking for a place to lay low, it’s literally full of the city’s most violent and ruthless criminals. What starts as an efficient raid as the police make their way floor by floor toward their goal, quickly turns into a slaughter when they realise just how outnumbered and outgunned they are, and look for ways to escape.
The Raid: Redemption was made on a tiny budget and that’s its greatest strength. With no money for lazy CGI effects and fakery, director and writer Gareth Evans puts all his faith in the ability of his cast, and it pays off amazingly. The practical stunt work and fight scenes are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. These dudes are blindingly quick and pinpoint precise, but even then, it’s baffling to think that these scenes were thought up by someone, choreographed, rehearsed and filmed. Everything is so fast and visceral that it feels like the cameramen were just lucky to capture the chaos.
I’ve heard a few comments about the sequel that sound like Evans might have been given a little too much money and freedom. I’ll still see it, but those criticisms of indulgence make me even more adamant that the limitations placed on Evans in the first movie are what makes The Raid: Redemption so amazing. Like the malfunctioning animatronic shark that made Spielberg find different ways to scare the shit out us in Jaws, the lack of effects meant Evans was forced to give us a real movie like nothing else being made in this age of CGI.