Review: The Raid: Redemption

This review initially appeared as part of our Toronto International Film Festival coverage and is based on the original version of The Raid that was shown during the TIFF Midnight Madness program. Though there are several changes to the film for its U.S. release (musical score, the odd appendage to its title and some “tweaking”), the film remains a full-on fight-filled action flick, so we’re re-publishing the previous review with a few minor alterations (removing TIFF-specific references).

 

Drawn in by the people and city of Jakarta, director Gareth Evans made a decision several years ago to continue filmmaking in Indonesia. This major career turning point happened after doing a short film there and being fascinated with the style of martial arts (called Pencak Silat) he saw which he felt would work well in feature length action films. And boy was he right – without a doubt The Raid (his second feature length action film which World Premiered at TIFF’s Midnight Madness last September) contains some of the most brutal, teeth-gritting and sustained fight scenes I’ve ever seen.

The story is somewhat nominal. A SWAT team attack an apartment complex that houses a dangerous drug lord and his cronies. As they move up floor by floor, they wipe out gang members and slowly secure the building. Until they are discovered and the gang fights back. That’s pretty much all there is to it. The set up is handled within 5-10 minutes and the shooting, stabbing and foot-to-face combat begins. Of course, there’s a few of the cops with specific characteristics (scared rookie, hardened veteran, soon-to-be first time father, etc.), but it really doesn’t matter. Even though the drug kingpin manages to get off a few good lines and crazy-eyed stares, this is not the kind of movie that has fans scrambling for early versions of the script on the Internet or that pulls you through a character arc. It’s all about the visceral thrill of watching people beat the living crap out of each other in very unique as well as old-fashioned ways. And it delivers what it set out to do.

And good god do they ever…Person after person gets dispatched in highly violent and bloody fashion – at first it’s machine guns, then other assorted firearms follow and it proceeds to swords, knives, clubs and your basic tried and true limbs. Oh, and fluorescent lightbulbs.

There are 4 or 5 incredibly long fight sequences – some between just 2 or 3 guys, but others between some of the Swat team and hallways full of baddies. The pace is furious so you never have that feeling that each individual evil dude is waiting his turn to fight our hero. Each attack move happens with such speed and forcefulness that you never doubt that everyone is trying their best to eliminate the other side. The good guys take their lumps too – these aren’t supermen, so you really do feel nervous for them in each and every fight. And do you ever feel those fights. The foley editing is extraordinary with each punch, baton whack and body thrown against a wall reverberating throughout your own body. The audience I saw it with was completely pulled into each and every fight with choruses of “oh!” coming frequently after particularly nasty comeuppences – for example, the one guy that gets pulled up in the air by his legs and then gets his neck slammed down on the broken shards of a door jutting up from the floor. The lead in all this chaos is played by Iko Uwais – a phenomenal talent who comes across almost as likable as he does ferocious.

It’s bloody, bloody violent, and bloody good fun.

Bob Turnbull
Critical Thinker At Large

19 Comments

  1. As someone who watches wrestling more often than one should admit, I am used to seeing people flip around and punch and kick and that being the main course. But I’ve seen enough of it that I require some gimmick or character or charisma or personality to now keep me interested. The shit hit the fan for me when I went to a DragonGate USA show a few years ago in Mississauga where I saw dozens of Japanese superstars doing non stop acrobatics to the point that I was bored with what was also an amazing athletic display… because it all ran together, these wrestlers didn’t do anything to distinguish themselves from each other in style or character.

    That’s what watching the Raid was like. The vast majority of the time I’m watching the same guy being fed to a boring hero out of some black hole that spits out Muay Thai masters and it gets tiresome. There is always something to look at, a creative kill or ‘how’d they do that’ moment, but there’s never a reason to give a shit. And I want to give a shit.

    I won’t give this a pass for the same reason I wont give Transformers a pass. Yeah he composited the fuck out of those robots, I believe they are fighting each other, they are real and they are big and shiny and nice looking… but they are just a big clump of metal, indistinguishable from each other, with no care put into characterization. I’m just supposed to be excited that they’re big fighting robots.

    Am I saying the Raid is dumb? Yes. The Raid is dumb. It’s as dumb as Transformers, and the audience was in the same “Sick, bro!” mode willing to accept less of character and enjoy action for actions sake. I can’t. I need someone to latch onto. Riki Oh doesnt have much craft, or much logic, or acting, or choreography. it’s trash. But there’s distinguishable characters, enough that I give a shit about seeing the stupid story through. Ditto a number of Jackie Chan movies. But this… Ong Bak… such elevated fighting skill, but who cares. Give someone a big yellow mohawk or something. The Mad Dog is close to this, but not close enough. I think I was rooting for him actually since he’s the only remotely interesting person in this movie.

    Is it horrible? No, there’s enough craft to defend it. But it’s getting a lot of credit there it doesnt deserve either. The print I saw at least looked really muddy, like a Youtube video put on screen. The score is awful. The shaky cam is questionable and often inauthentic feeling. I genuinely think people are tolerating massive flaws in The Raid that would not be tolerated in a big budget blockbuster or even just regular ol North American action movie.

    Reply
    • I think too many characters in other action movies get bogged down by too much unnecessary backstories.

      Comparing something like this to the Crank movies would be irrelevant, given Neveldine Taylor’s track record and the almost ADD (or headache inducing) style of filmmaking they employ in their movies. If anything, their movies do look like Youtube videos.

      The Raid is a confident, efficient, unapologetic display of violence executed with first-class martial arts choreography and filmed with clear, discernible cinematography. Good luck finding a movie in the near future (from Hollywood nonetheless) that will reach the level of commitment given to the action genre like this.

      Reply
  2. For a ‘non stop action movie’ I’d take either of the Crank movies over this any day of the year. Statham isn’t Mr. Personality either but he’s Prince Charming compared to the Raid’s guys.

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  3. Never got the YouTube video impression and I can’t comment on the score since I saw the original one which seemed perfectly fine.

    I hear what you’re saying Goon and I’m typically not one to argue “against” creating characters – trust me, I’ve had the same argument against other films before…But there’s a big difference between The Raid and Transformers: The Raid delivered its action set pieces (I can see why given your experience that they bored you – that’s fine), but I don’t think Transformers delivered on their big cool robots. They’re cool for about half a second – but they completely messed up the transformations (it’s all a blur), the fights (who the hell is fighting who?) and they actually tried to give each robot a “character” and failed remarkably in doing that (by creating annoying stereotypes). At least The Raid knows what it wants and focuses on that.

    That’s not to say that more character investment wouldn’t have made it a better film, but I was completely satisfied with what they gave me. Partially because it gave me great fights, but also because I got enough tension and sheer visceral excitement out of it. The sound design is key and I think the craft in that area is quite remarkable (I really felt those fights). Also, I didn’t have to suffer through crappy “characters” making stupid quips as many action movies fall back to. I’m not giving The Raid a “pass”, I’m appreciating it for exactly what it was (and even what it didn’t try to be).

    Reply
  4. “The Raid delivered its action set pieces (I can see why given your experience that they bored you – that’s fine), but I don’t think Transformers delivered on their big cool robots.”

    See, I’m one of the people who thinks Transformers 3 was the best one, because during setpiece in Chicago at the end, it was the first of all the movies that actually delivered on robot action, distinguishing the robots visually and not cutting as fast as the first two movies. And the human action was actually not bad either. But it still wasn’t enough because the characters weren’t there.

    “Also, I didn’t have to suffer through crappy “characters” making stupid quips as many action movies fall back to.”

    Given the choice between crappy quips and no quips in exchange for several more minutes of action with characters I don’t know… I’ll take the quips.

    Reply
    • Fair enough – I’ll take the former.

      As for Transformers 3, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen 2 either. I really couldn’t stand the first one, so I stopped there and my comments are focused on it.

      Reply
      • Amen Bob. I abandoned that franchise, although MAMO almost got me to watch the second one on the argument that is the most Bay-ish of all Micheal Bay films. But I still dislike how infantile and loud that franchise is…I’d rather watch Southland Tales or Domino, for my ‘culture-is-in-the-toilet’ fix…

        Reply
  5. As for the Youtube video-ness. I have heard from people who saw it at Midnight Madness that it was much crisper there. At least what I saw often looked dark and muddy like when you go ‘fullscreen’ on a YouTube video. I think even if it was crisp the visual style is kind of ugly.

    Reply
      • Well, now theres Linkin Park dudes fingerprints over the whole thing. I didn’t even know it was him till the movie was over and we were talking to Andrew Parker, asking how the score was different before. During the end credits funny enough, I started mockingly singing “Crawling” over top the end theme since it sounded so blatantly Linkin Park-ish.

        I wont be the big enemy at the next blogger meetup though Kurt, Corey Atad has hardon-hate for this thing.

        Reply
        • Please do not mention Corey’s hard on.

          I’m surprised at all the after-the-fact fucking-around on this thing. Adding the “Redemption” to the title and the Linkin Park to the soundtrack seems inexcusably cheesy and unnecessary. We’ll never know, but I doubt a single box office dollar could be derived from these changes.

          I’m not as wildly enthusiastic about this film as everyone else is. I enjoyed watching it up to a point, but after a while I felt like I was watching someone else play a video game. Now that it’s out and everyone’s freaking out about it all over again I’m even less inclined to be charitable towards its deficits as I was in September… so I guess pub night’s gonna be fun?

          Reply
          • I’m not even CRAZY-POSITIVE about it, but I did enjoy the 90 minutes spent with this thing, and some of the set-pieces are a lot of fun. For my money, Sleepless Night and Kill List were the two Midnight Madness 2012 films to beat.

        • At some point there will be an Epic Kurt vs. Corey smack-down on Schindler’s List, or War Horse, if I ever work up the nerve to watch the latter.

          At least Corey & I agree on the fine things on TV, like Breaking Bad or The Prisoner. (Although I seem to be the lone outlier on the Cumberbatch SHERLOCK and its series of diminishing returns..)

          Reply
  6. Saw this over the weekend, and really enjoyed it. I thought it had just the right amount of story and character to string the fights along – granted, everyone is a type and there aren’t many surprises plotwise, but that’s not what the movie’s about. At first, I was afraid it was gonna all be guns (which would’ve bored me), but once the hand-to-hand stuff got going, yeah, I was all in. It looked good, it was shot well, it was paced well, I believed the action, and that’s all I was asking for.

    Reply
    • Exactly. For what this film is, it does it almost perfect. It certainly puts the run-of-the-mill Direct-To-Video North American Action/Shoot-Up film to absolute shame.

      There is a lot of inventive set-ups and choreographed action, but people that rag on this film for not having a lot of ‘depth’, I wonder how well they enjoy all those Shaw Brothers style films. This one is about craft more than depth, and I’m totally fine with that.

      And like Sean above, I saw it with the original score, not the Linkin Park update. Sony really did dumb the film down (see also the manipulations from Omar’s original One-Sheet, to the eventual release by sony, they are subtle, but all reek of playing to the Direct-To-Video or Jason Statham crowd.

      Reply
      • I didn’t mind the score I heard. I was worried, because I really do not like Linkin Park, but it worked fine with the action.

        I need to see some of those Shaw Brothers films. Any suggestions for where to start?

        Reply

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