Directed by: Gareth Evans
Premise: An Indonesian film in which a SWAT team raids a high rise apartment complex that houses a drug lord and his narcotics factory. When the SWAT team members find themselves ambushed they must fight their way out.
What Works: The Raid: Redemption is an exceptional action film. The allure of an action movie is found in its kinetic qualities; action pictures are about movement both of the camera and of the subjects within the camera’s lens. In that respect, action pictures are potentially the most purely cinematic motion pictures to be found and The Raid is an excellent example of that. This is a furious and gritty picture that sets up and executes fights, standoffs, and shootouts with masterful showmanship. Action films, especially examples like The Raid, are very much like musicals. The fights are like dance numbers and just as the best musicals convey their characters and story through song, so action films do the same through violence and stunts. This film is very busy, as an action picture should be, but ironically one of the most outstanding traits of The Raid is the filmmakers’ restraint. A lot of contemporary action pictures suffer from escalation; fights and chases are bogged down by unnecessary use of slow motion photography or are exaggerated by obvious wirework. These techniques are intended to make scenes more impactful but they often have the opposite effect and shatter the viewer’s illusion. The Raid has a lot of hand-to-hand combat but it is mostly filmed at normal speed with fight choreography that puts more emphasis on punching and blocking than flips and leaps. The filmmakers also show an understanding for varying the film’s tempo and the value of rests. Furious action sequences are exciting but they can also become exhausting if they go on too long or come in too quick of a succession. The filmmakers of The Raid create an effective rhythm and provide dramatic moments between the fights that build character and create a coherent narrative. The picture never slows down too much and the dramatic moments raise the stakes of the fights, giving the characters what they critically need: something to fight for. That sense of purpose focuses the film and makes it more than a collection of kicks and punches.
What Doesn’t: The Raid: Redemption is a piece of action cinema and it isn’t much more. That’s all it is trying to be and that is enough, especially since it is done so well, but it is hard to say what has been affirmed or won by the end of the film. The one shortcoming of The Raid is a byproduct of the filmmakers’ stylistic choices. After the initial ambush, the surviving SWAT members are divided into two groups, alternately hiding and fighting. Once a fight begins, which is about every five to ten minutes, the picture stops and lets the combat play out before cutting back to the other group, rather than cross cutting the action. It isn’t the most economic form of storytelling but it does allow for the fights to maintain continuity and create a dramatic structure and it is admirable that the filmmakers resist the fashions of contemporary action cinema in which action scenes are cut to shreds in the editing room.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, and trailers.
Bottom Line: The Raid: Redemption is one of the best action films of recent years and in time it may be regarded with pictures like Enter the Dragon, First Blood, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard among the great entries in the genre.
Episode: #407 (September 30, 2012)