Ray Sahetapy as Tama, left, and Pierre Gruno as Wahyu in a scene from "The Raid: Redemption." / Akhirwan Nurhaidir/Sony Pictures Classics
'The Raid: Redemption'
Two and a half stars (out of four)
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Two and a half stars (out of four)
Whenever I offer even the smallest amount of praise to a violent movie, I hear from a segment of readers who believe lionizing that sort of thing in any way is irresponsible.
I'd better set some time aside to answer e-mails and phone calls, then, because "The Raid: Redemption" is as violent as any movie you'll see outside of torture porn (and even then ...). But if you like martial-arts films, it's well worth your while, a non-stop orgy of brilliantly choreographed fight scenes. Eventually it's all too much, a blur of fists, blades and snapped bones that run together after a time. Still, it's a wild ride.
The Welsh writer and director Gareth Evans doesn't identify the film's setting, but, as with his 2009 film "Merantau," most of the actors are Indonesian, and Indonesian is spoken throughout the film. But the real language spoken here is martial arts, more specifically Pencak Silat. Evans doesn't bother much with story or character development, instead making his film a kind of brutal ballet.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Rama (Iko Uwais), a young police officer with a pregnant wife. He is part of an elite task force assigned to conduct a raid on a filthy, dilapidated tenement building that also serves as the headquarters of a crime lord named Tama (Ray Sahetapy). His sanctuary is on the top floor; he has cameras set up all over the building, which seems to be populated mostly by junkies and thugs.
Tama has two main henchmen, Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). The latter is a lethal fighting machine, the former the only person who can come close to controlling him. Both will figure prominently in Rama's life.
The raid is a disaster from the start. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), a lieutenant, seems like a fishy sort, but he's right in worrying that the men he and Jaka (Joe Taslim) will lead are too green for such an assignment. The mission is to clear the place floor by floor until arriving at the top, to take Tama into custody. But Tama is ready; he locks the place down and, over loudspeakers, announces that anyone who assists in the killing of the police officers will live rent-free in the building for life. So the cops, trapped, must fight their way out.
So begins a nightmarish free-for-all, with residents jumping out from behind every corner, many armed with knives, guns and machetes. Evidently everyone in the place, cops and civilians both, has a healthy working knowledge of martial arts. Battle after battle after battle results in snapped necks, smashed skulls and more.
But Rama and Mad Dog are a cut above, exceptional fighters. They are also the most-compelling characters in the film, Mad Dog in particular. Both adhere to a code of ethics, Rama's the more recognizable: He wants to do the right thing, even if the odds are against him. Mad Dog's is more morally complicated: As he explains to one man he is about to dispatch, as he puts down his pistol, it would be easy to shoot the man dead. But there's no rush in that. It's like ordering dinner from a drive-through. "This," he says, holding up his hands, "is what I do."
Boy, is it. More-and-more violent fights must lead, of course, to a confrontation between Rama and Mad Dog. And while their showdown, which involves a third party, is as spectacular as anticipated, by that point a weariness has set in. While "The Raid: Redemption" is a bracing, exhilarating affair, it is also exhausting. Fewer fights actually would have made it more powerful, but overkill is what Evans is selling, and fans of martial-arts films will gladly buy.