The hunters become the hunted in the blink of an eye in “The Raid: Redemption,” a neck-snapping/leg-stabbing lead and blood-spattered action overdose from Indonesia. It’s an orgy of beautifully shot and choreographed brawls, shootouts and knife fights, perhaps the cinema’s closest imitation of a first-person-shooter video game ever.
A SWAT team on a search and destroy mission in a gangster-infested high rise tenement finds itself overwhelmed, trapped, with no hope of backup. A murderous gangster (Ray Sahetapy) finishes executing a handful of men who have crossed him, glances at his scores of surveillance cameras, and urges every outlaw tenant under the roof of his 15 story fortress to wipe out “this infestation” of police. A rookie cop (Iko Uwais) thinks back to the pregnant wife he left behind this morning and decides that whatever it takes, he’s going to make it back to her.
Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Huw Evans mimics the melodrama, slo-mo mayhem and fight flourishes of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema with this lean, exceptionally mean thriller. Stunt men litter the 15 floors here as Uwais, as the good guy, and Yayan Ruhian, as the whirling dervish of martial arts evil, dispatch one foe after another in breathless, brilliantly edited brawls.
“Raid” is such a visceral experience that it’s hard to resist the urge to swear, loudly, or shout instructions at the screen. Especially when the fights drag on past the point of human endurance — both the fighters’, and the viewer’s.
“Pick up something, use a WEAPON.”
I love the way he uses sound, especially quiet. The faint rattle of a loaded pistol as a gangster waves it at a would-be victim, the thudding tinnitus experienced by a man who had a gun go off in his ear, the death-wriggles of a hallway full of bleeding-out bad guys.
But Evans is so caught up in the visceral — and viscera — that the movie struggles to show a heartbeat. Yes, it’s stunning to see one cop’s final moments drawn out as a villain, in slow motion, maneuvers to deliver the coup de grace. He won’t use a gun, because shooting somebody with a pistol “is like ordering take-out.” He wants to feel the rush of somebody else’s life leaving them. Shudder. Yes, the various Indonesian martial arts unleashed here are novel and new.
However, when the fights are this relentless and go on this long, you lose track of who you’re rooting for. When we venture into combat surgery, the film becomes a dare. “Avert your eyes, or don’t.”
And when all is said and done, “The Raid: Redemption,” is like many an introductory blast of adrenalin from a fresh new action filmmaker — stunning to look at, over the top, simplistic. Let’s hope Evans finds more than just cool camera angles and 800 ways to die for his next film.
MPAA Rating:R for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, and language
Cast:Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy
Credits: Writen and directed by Gareth Huw Evans, a Sony Classics release.
Running time: 1: 41