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Movies I Have Seen: The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption, also known as Serbuan maut, is an Indonesian action film written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, and starring Indonesian actor Iko Uwais. It is the pair’s second collaboration, the first being Merantau, which I have not yet seen but now desperately want to watch. It features the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, which is almost a cross between Muay Thai and Kali, which you know means it’s fucking awesome to watch. I’ve always thought, you know what would make Muay Thai more awesome? STICKS AND KNIVES! I couldn’t have been more correct in my assessment that this makes it way more awesome. However, this doesn’t really talk about the movie itself right? I had heard a lot of hype about this movie and watching the first half hour or so I kept thinking “this is cool, but not really what I expected”. About the thirty-eight minute mark? Yeah, this film decided that it had enough fucking about and was ready to blow it’s cinematic juice all over your ocular cavities. It proceeds to do so, FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF. Seriously, this movie just doesn’t quit.

The best part? It’s really not just about the martial arts, though I will talk about that in detail. This is an incredible exercise in showing rather than telling. It doesn’t always work, particularly when it starts tossing around names that are only dropped this way, but for the large part it works phenomenally. It reveals the plot through dialogue without any moments of purely plot exposition.There are no plot dumps that occur in the film, and the few instances of “here’s more of the story” don’t occur in inorganic ways. The closest would be the office scene towards the end, but even that is more of a character defining twist with a story component rather than a true expository exchange. The movie begins with only a single phrase of dialogue, and then the next thirty minutes or so are filled with setting context and dialogue that truly drives the story. You quickly get a sense of characters, motives and the general feel that something just isn’t quite right with what you are being shown. The best part is that the characters are all voicing this and acting on it, so it’s not only contextual, but explicit as well. It’s a great composite that truly drives the film and makes it work.

Coupled with this is the pure economy of character development and sense of scale. You meet Rama in the opening scene, you know he’s a martial artist, you know he’s an expectant father, and you know that he’s doing something for an old guy. The film quickly establishes that he’s a keen observer of motives and situations, that he’s compassionate, and then it blindsides you with the fact that he’s a bad motherfucker. Yeah, there is no question that everyone will end up liking Rama. They do the same for Jaka. He’s in charge, he’s responsible, competent, cares about his men, and is driven by a sense of doing the right thing. He’s established as a guy who’s not to be fucked with either, and in doing so, his personality and actions help establish the captain as a loathsome individual. The villains are handled the same way. You get a tiny bit of exposition about them at the beginning, a few moments with the boss to establish their credentials and then the rest is told in their actions and words. I mean, it’s not as if these characters are new and original characters either. These are by the books martial arts villains. The crazed psychopathic fighter, the good guy who turns to a life of crime, the intelligent boss, the out-of-control second in command, the by-the-book team leader, and so on. The fact is, they establish these guys with only the barest of words and the rest is in the details. Look, they know that you know these stereotypes, why fuck about? Let’s put them into motion and see that shit roll! It’s exactly what I want to be shown in this kind of film. I can’t stress just how much I love this style of narration.

I did mention that this film is basically three quarters pure action insanity. The action is seriously incredible in that the first really big non-gun oriented action sequence sort of comes out of nowhere. It’s not as if the gun play is bad either, but it’s just not what you expect when you think martial arts action. It never plays with bullet time either and guns are every bit as lethal as you think they would be against people who do not have guns. However, the movie plays with this well, by making sound and stealth somewhat of a concern, so guns fall by the wayside in non-silly ways. The place of action really lends itself well to the way it’s filmed, as well. I can’t stress this enough that an action film really needs to be aware of the setting and type of action they are attempting to present. Evans handles this beautiful. The action occurs almost entirely in hallways and small rooms, so you get close shots but they aren’t tight. You feel like you are a close observer, but the frame is never cluttered and the action is never hard to follow. The camera is just this side of “shaky cam”, but in a way that helps to enhance the experience rather than force a perspective on you. One of the things I liked in particular about this was when it left the camera stationary so that you only saw part of a particular action and heard the consequences. When you saw the resultant destruction a split second later it just reminded you of the powerful action that you witnessed only moments before. The action stops just when it should and never really feels broken up, save the final fight which is honestly the least interesting until the very end. The flow just adds to this feeling, as guns are abandoned and fights become more and more visceral, all for semi-decent reasons. It’s just excellent.

The fighting itself is top notch and I found myself constantly reminded of The Warriors, Falling Down and Escape From New York with the pacing and atmosphere. This is just an incredible movie. Is it perfect? No, of course not, but it is just astounding. I would rate this movie four and a half smiley faces on a scale of five frowny faces to five smiley faces. If this movie hits screens in August, which it might, I will be inline to see it on the big screen, and I will be smiling the whole time.

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