It’s been a while since a movie really kicked me in the face. Well, at least in a good way. This particular type of facial assault only occurs with the most visceral, vigorous action movies during which fists and feet become weapons of mass destruction. Boisterous, brilliant face-kicking is at the top of the agenda for incredible Indonesian import The Raid: Redemption. Cinematic face-kicking tends to be entirely metaphorical, but it may as well be the real thing in this stunning movie. Consider my face bruised and bloodied.
Cutting almost immediately to the chase, the story chronicles the heroic, blood-spewing efforts of a group of elite cops who have been tasked with storming a dilapidated apartment building that is controlled by a nasty drug lord (a particularly intimidating Ray Sahetapy). We are quickly introduced to central protagonist Rama (Iko Uwais) in a simple, effective, and briefly poignant opening sequence. We witness Rama’s morning routine: A strict workout to prep for the action ahead and a sweet goodbye kiss to his wife and unborn child. It’s a standard, perhaps even obvious start to his day and the movie, but in writer/editor/director Gareth Evans’ hands, it’s a sharp, focused beginning that establishes our hero and sets up the stakes.
From there, we’re just an armored vehicle’s ride away from absolute chaos. The cops arrive at the building, begin the early stages of their raid, and then watch as Evans opens the floodgates. And once they’re open, Evans shows no interest in closing them until it’s time for the credits to roll. It takes only a few floors for the cops’ plan to go awry and then another ninety minutes or so to visually and viciously illustrate the extent to which the plan has gone off the rails. Evans cranks up the intensity as he embarks on each new action sequence with only a few moments of breath-catching lodged between the walls of violence.
The sheer enormity of the action is staggering. Bad guys (so expendable that most of them are simply numbered in the credits) pour out of hallways and rooms and stairwells to cut off the flow of cops. It all begins as a battle of machine guns, a fine way to start things off and allow us to acclimate ourselves to the levels of extreme violence that are increasingly hit throughout the movie. Evans lets the bullets fly in a raucous manner, pinning down the good guys and often putting us in their position, where being hit seems like something close to an inevitability. These initial semi-automatic showdowns are certainly gripping, but Evans sees the guns as a temporary necessity. While interesting for a few minutes, the bullets are actually just getting in the way of what he really wants to show us.
The Raid: Redemption transforms into a ferocious masterpiece of escalating hand-to-hand (and foot-to-foot) combat. Villains are defeated with movements so quick they could drop our jaw and kick it back into place before we even noticed. Limbs fly carefully, though blazingly and with such precision that they land devastating blows almost every time. Bodies are hurled against walls, faces are pounded into the floor, throats are slashed by blades, and just about everyone takes a beating that appears to redefine pain. Area hospitals had better prep their body casts early for this one.
With so much martial artistry at work in the same setting, it seems like a guarantee that the action will at some point become dully repetitive. But the freshness of each passing minute in The Raid: Redemption is arguably Evans’ greatest accomplishment. He never appears to be repeating himself and he keeps the crackling pace intact for the entire duration of the movie. Each action sequence has its own flow, its own weight, its own set of memorable moments and tops the previous battle. He’s always building upon the movie’s established high point, eradicating it by coming up with something bigger and better. By the time the movie is nearing its end, the amount of unforgettably awesome action sequences that we have witnessed is practically overwhelming. A brawl in a drug lab is so engaging and energetically executed that it appears to be unbeatable in the grand scheme of the movie’s individual sequences. Surely, nothing can top this . . . right? Well, Evans anticipates this response and so he shows us how good he really is at saving the best for last. The final fight sequence is enough to earn The Raid: Redemption its status as a phenomenal highlight of the modern action genre.
More action-packed than most movies ever even attempt to be, The Raid: Redemption makes a considerable impact by giving us a charismatic cast and enough pieces of efficiently integrated character development and plot progression to keep the movie from collapsing in on itself. The breathing space between the action beats is important and it’s not treated in some slapdash manner that could have otherwise reduced these moments to mere extended transitions. Instead, the drama is strengthened during these moments and we are given a reason to actually care about what is happening (plus, it’s possible that we need the brief breaks even more than the onscreen fighters). Evans and cinematographer Matt Flannery pull us through the action with such a commanding grip on the camera that we’re practically participating in the mayhem. It’s an exhilarating experience that extends its reach beyond the screen so it can deliver that aforementioned hearty kick to the face. I’m so enthused and excited by the magic of this movie that I can’t even feel the pain.