Expectations are a funny thing. For a critic, they are the worst thing to have. Going into a film with any kind of expectations, good or bad, can color one’s ultimate perception of a film and sway a review one way or another. Our goal should be simple: review the film as is, with no outside influence from hype or marketing. When it comes to Gareth Evans’ sophomore feature The Raid: Redemption, I’ve been a very bad critic. Not only did the trailer — with all of its glorious violence — get to me, but the words of others have been rattling around in my head since the film exploded onto the scene at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. It was dead-set in my wheelhouse, a hyper-violent movie from a director whose last film is a personal favorite. It was difficult to be anything but excited. Almost impossible to have anything but lofty expectations. But that’s the funny thing about expectations. Sometimes you have big ones, and a film comes along and exceeds them. Then you know that you’ve got something special on your hands. And The Raid is something special, indeed.
The simple story of a SWAT team sent to infiltrate a dangerous high-rise held tightly as a stronghold by a nasty drug lord, The Raid wastes absolutely no time. We meet our hero, played by Merantau star Iko Uwais, kissing his pregnant wife and leaving for what he doesn’t yet know will be one hellish day at the office. No more than 10 minutes later, he is in the middle of one of the most explosive firefights ever captured on film. It is there where things become interesting. For the next 90 minutes, with rare moments of breath, The Raid proves itself to be nothing less than an expertly crafted explosion of good old fashioned hand-to-hand-to-machete-to-fist-to-head-to-wall brilliance. On every level of the building, in every hallway and broken down apartment, a new violent challenge awaits our hero and his mates. Whether it’s a bullet-riddled open vestibule scene or an intimate hallway knife fight, each moment of violence hits like a 50 lb. weight to the chest. The daring nature of the action and the dynamic way in which the fighting becomes more and more intimate as the film rolls along prove it to be one of the best choreographed fight films in years, perhaps decades. With an active camera and an almost merciless commitment to showing us new ways to kill a man in a tight space, Evans and team deliver action on high. Set to a rhythmic score from Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese, The Raid becomes a blood-soaked opera that is clearly too bold to come from within the pearly gates of Hollywood.
In addition to challenging the norms of modern action films and pushing its level of raw violence to levels previously unseen, The Raid further proves that Iko Uwais is the world’s next great action star. A fleet-of-fist, full body fighter, Uwais dispatches his rivals beautifully with the fluid movements of Silat, Indonesia’s brutal answer to the world’s martial arts. He also delivers a dynamic emotional performance as the film’s story — yes, it has one, and it’s more layered than you might expect from a film that could very well be called 90-Minute Fight Scene — unfolds. As an actor, he continues to evolve from his work in Merantau and become more than just a guy who can kick ass. There’s no reason why he can’t be a big deal, so you might as well start learning how to pronounce his name now.
It would take less than one hand’s worth of fingers to count action films from the last two decade that have come this close to the level of action seen in The Raid: Redemption. Think about the best scenes from The Bourne Ultimatum, but far more brutal and frenetic. Think Hard Boiled, but in tighter spaces. No filmmaker out there is delivering such relentless brutality, cheer-inducing action. In this arena, Gareth Evans stands alone. He’s the special kind of director whose movie can leave a SXSW audience, 1,100 deep in the timeless Paramount theater, with hearts beating out of their chests, the roof absolutely torn off, those high expectations splattered all over the walls.
The Upside: “An expertly crafted explosion of good old fashioned hand-to-hand-to-machete-to-fist-to-head-to-wall brilliance.” If that doesn’t do it for you, then there’s no further assistance I can provide.
The Downside: Gareth Evans has not yet finished (but is working on) the sequel. Come on man, get on that!
The Raid begins its limited U.S. release on March 23, expanding in the weeks that follow. To see if it’s coming to your town, head over to TheRaidMovie.com
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