Rating: 8 / 10
The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut) is a 2011 Indonesian action/martial arts epic extravaganza that seems to be a feature-length version of the last 40 minutes of John Woo’s epic Hard-Boiled. And that’s not necessarily a criticism, either. There’s no doubt that director Gareth Evans set out to produce a gritty, no-quarter-given 100 minute adrenaline overload of action mayhem, and too his credit he was able to make an engaging and great-looking movie in an extremely limited environment with an even more limited budget.
The plot, rather unsurprisingly, is inconsequential. That is to say, there is just enough storyline to keep things moving along briskly. Iko Uwais stars as Rama, a rookie officer on a Jakarta SWAT team, with a pregnant wife at home…. and, save for a somewhat conventional reveal that comes about halfway through the movie, that’s pretty much all the character development and definition you’re going to get in this movie. Uwais is a strong screen presence and, even more effectively, an incredibly kinetic martial artist in the Pencak Silat discipline. Along with the rest of a 20-member SWAT team, he is ordered to raid a slum tenement — a known haven for criminals, killers, drug pushers, and the like — in order to eliminate a drug lord known as Tama Riyadi. Who ordered the raid and why? These questions drive the story, which takes a turn for the insanely suspenseful when the SWAT team is pinned down and trapped inside the building, with no backup coming, no outgoing communication, and, even worse, nobody knowing they are there in the first place. If that wasn’t bad enough, Tama gets on the intercom and announces to all the building’s residents that whomever kills a police officer gets free rent for life. The cops suddenly become the hunted, with no place to hide and legions of hardcore killers gunning for bear.
This is all set up in the first fifteen minutes. The remaining 80 feature any manner of violence, action, gore, depravity, you name it, as the surviving officers try to find some way — ANY way — to escape the building. All of it is excellently staged and shot, including some of the most exciting martial arts sequences that — while FAR from realistic — avoid much of the 90s/00s genre cliches (slow-mo, wire-fu, etc.) and coast by on sheer brutality. We’re talking spine-snapping, bone-crunching, neck-twisting, limb-rendering goodness. You know… for kids!
The Raid: Redemption is an unapologetically violent action film, and on that level it is quite superlative. If you want character development, plot complexity, or nuance of any kind, you’re best served elsewhere. Is there enough plot to keep things from being little more than a stylistic exercise? Surely, but without the insanely watchable battle sequences — including a ridiculously incredible 3-way fight sequence between Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, and Yayan Ruhian, the latter of whom playing a brutal yet somehow honorable thug called “Mad Dog” and providing the movie’s most memorable character — there would be no other reason for The Raid: Redemption to exist. Yet as a sheer adrenalin blast of gleeful kineticism, this movie excels in abundance.