PLOT: An elite Indonesian SWAT team descends upon a vicious crime boss' lair - a thirty story tenement building - with the intent on putting his end to his drug operation. Things get complicated when the boss offers his residents a deal in exchange for help dealing with the troublesome authorities.
REVIEW: Gareth Evans' THE RAID: REDEMPTION is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of chaos and bloodshed, featuring combat scenes that are things of stirring, almost balletic precision and set-pieces of destruction designed to rattle your bones. Guaranteed to keep nerves on edge and pulses pounding, Evans' special brand of mayhem is equal parts kung-fu smackdown and explosive first-person shooter, featuring enough moments of "how'd they do that?!" gusto that you might as well save a place for it in the Cult Classic section of your library right now.
The plot is a western/urban warfare hybrid that would make John Carpenter proud: A SWAT team has been dispatched to the tenement building a drug lord and his crew call home. Their mission to end his reign of terror on the city and put a stop to his enterprise should go smoothly enough, but they're not prepared for the criminal's offensive tactic: he'll offer the residents of the building - all dealers, crooks and killers, natch - permanent safety if they help him squash the raid on his compound. The SWAT team finds out with the quickness that it wasn't prepared to take on about three dozen hopped-up maniacs armed with machetes and machine guns.
Before you know it, the team finds itself in the horror-move situation of having to barricade themselves into any room they can find while hordes of the building's creeps madly hack and bash their way through. With their number dwindling at a rapid pace, the survivors can only rely on one man, Rama, who is, fortunately for them, one hell of an ass-kicker. Rama is played by a physically gifted specimen named Iko Uwais, a strong, silent type who, while lacking the charisma of his predecessors (Jet Li and Jean Claude Van Damme come to mind) lays down a rapid-fire bludgeoning as believably as you please.
The second half of THE RAID is the simple tale of Uwais' heroic journey to the crime boss' lair, as he cuts a swath through an assembly line of armed henchmen and psychotics. It may sound like the narrative of the most primitive video game (and, truth be told, it sorta is), but the lack of complexity in Evans' storytelling is well made up for in his unmistakable talent in the director's chair. His composition and choreography are flawless; there's nothing overly fancy about the way Evans goes to work, he just obviously knows how to coordinate and map out an action sequence with maximum efficiency, even if most of the prolonged fight scenes seem impossibly complicated.
Those fight scenes are what makes THE RAID such a blast. They have the graceful execution of a Jackie Chan sequence in the limber action hero's prime, but they're of a much more brutal, flesh-pounding variety, as the actors/stuntmen hurl themselves into each other's fists, legs and feet with seemingly little consideration for their own internal organs. This flick has more "that had to hurt!" jolts than any I can think of.
If there's a shortcoming, it's in the fact that the only true emotions we feel are excitement and suspense. The very best action flicks invest the whole of our hearts, and THE RAID can only strive to grab at those sections that love an adrenaline rush. Part of that might have to do with Uwais' character, who isn't fully developed enough to be much more than a cipher. The fact that Evans is planning on two more movies in the franchise may help that eventually, but as it stands we don't get behind him the way we do with the truly lovable characters of the genre. Similarly, while the villains snarl and intimidate believably, they fall well short of cinema's thoroughly evil baddies because we hardly get an opportunity to hate them.
But... don't worry about that too much. THE RAID is a visceral experience, and even those of us who yearn for character development and inner conflict and subtext and all that stuff will knock our concerns by the wayside as Evans and company show us a blood-splattered magic show. If action movies should provide bang for your buck, it's worth the price of admission and then some.