Gareth Huw Evans’s The Raid: Redemption
Action cinema often explores men (and women) with guns moving in formation, or more specifically their coordinated timing in a volatile kinetic universe. Placement and directionality within the frame becomes paramount, like how a S.W.AT. team stacks up before entering a building, or the space between characters during a standoff. This approach defines films like John Woo’s Hard-boiled or Johnnie To’s The Mission as intoxicating and poetic symphonies of slow-motion violence. But Gareth Huw Evans’s Indonesian powder keg of a movie, The Raid: Redemption, crushes the very idea that precise formation matters inside the belly of combat. Here, when groups of characters are confronted with sudden and unexpected chaos, the individual must abandon all sense of logic and improvise in order to survive.
The Raid: Redemption’s menial plot couldn’t be more straightforward: A special police task force made up of mostly rookies invades a 20-floor apartment building, a grim and deteriorating space where drug kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy) houses his massive hive of worker-killers. As the police unit attacks the menacing building with quiet precision, Evans quickly centers on one rookie in particular, Rama (Iko Uwais), a devastatingly nimble fighter who may have ulterior motives. The opening scenes of The Raid: Redemption highlight the group as one character, watching them snake through rooms and corridors eliminating threats without much resistance. It’s not a surprise when Rama gets wind of the siege and alerts his countless minions just itching for a fight. What is surprising is how this shift in power destroys all sense of coordination within a plot based around the essential need for seamless and professional calculation.
The Raid: Redemption has its fair share of canonical action moments spotlighting the Burmese martial art of Silat. Evans and his devoted production team meticulously choreograph action sequences with an admiration for the small, decisive details. Instead of embracing the shaky-cam aesthetic, a go-to visual tactic for Western action directors, Evans films the crushing of limbs and skulls in smooth long takes, often cramping the frame down to a suffocating state as if to heighten the sudden impact of metal and flesh. Most of the time, multiple conflicts occur within the same shot, lending a nice depth to an already brilliantly stretched frame. One hallway-set fisticuffs involving Rama, a police baton, and a series of knife wielding assailants establishes a close-contact intimacy often found in the film’s best moments.
Every so often the “plot” of The Raid: Redemption rears its head, trying to make narrative sense of the raw unfiltered physicality on display. Character motivations and allegiances are tested, and even a feeble social commentary is unleashed, but none of it holds much weight when compared to the speed and momentum created by the film’s breakneck action pace. Interestingly, the humanity of a character (or lack thereof) is never personified via dialogue or even facial expressions, but through the personality of their fighting style. This is best exemplified in the final battle between Rama and one of Tama’s key henchmen, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), a shaggy-haired indestructible force of nature who becomes the film’s most lasting example of controlled chaos. The protracted fight scene that follows represents Evans’s calculated and unnerving attempt to redefine what action cinema looks like stripped down to its barest essentials. Here, the violent and destructive collision of bodies is akin to a smoky, personalized jazz riff, lulling you into a heightened state of rhythm before sweeping the rug out from under at the last second.
- The Raid: Redemption is now playing at Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.