A film review by Craig J. Koban August 28, 2012


2012, R, 101 mins.


Rama: Iko Uwais / Jaka: Joe Taslim / Mad Dog: Yayan Ruhian

Written and directed by Gareth Evans


In Indonesian, with English subtitles

THE RAID REDEMPTION - not to be confused with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - has no time for developing characters, an underlining story, or any semblance of dramatic interest.  It seems to be mostly concerned with presenting the most nauseatingly disgusting manners of inflicting pain on the human body.  The film is utterly awash in endless, merciless, and frequently stomach-churning violence and carnage that initially showcases a mass execution of several people and then finally culminates with hardly anyone left standing alive.  THE RAID REDEMPTION is so fascinated with its inherent brutality that it comes off more as one brutal and long extended fight demo reel than a full fledged movie.  

That's not to say, however, that there isn't any craft to be seen here.  Many in the film world heralded this Indonesian slaughterhouse effort – directed with a borderline medical precision by Welsh-born Gareth Evans – as one of the most innovative and thrilling action films of recent times.  I will not attempt to argue with the former descriptor: THE RAID REDEMPTION, to its credit, absconds away from the limitlessly overused queasy-cam and hyperactive editorial overkill that has permeated so many mainstream Hollywood action films and instead presents all of its choreographed mayhem with a crisp precision and atypical clarity.  Without any shaky cam hysterics, the action flows from scene to scene with an unfussy lucidity.  

As for the thrilling part?  Well, THE RAID REDEMPTION is thrilling in the sense that it has a propulsive and non-stop energy, but it never once emerges as a tension-filled experience because it has no characters of depth to latch on to and root for.  The film is so hopelessly void of humanity that, within a very short time, it becomes clear that the characters here are just puppets to cater to Evans’ penchant for non-stop sadism.  The plot is a cookie cutter affair, to be sure, only establishing the core rudimentary elements necessary for the film to not carry the moniker of a snuff effort.  A SWAT team – lead by Rama (Iko Uwais) enters an 15-story apartment complex that is ruled over by a vicious drug lord (Ray Sahetapy) to remove him, the only problem being is that the building has never been raided before and has never had a police presence infiltrate it.  Worse yet, the complex houses the worst scum of humanity that society has spit out.  The courageous SWAT members enter from the first floor and then have to fight their way up one floor at a time before finally confronting the kingpin. 



I’ve seen old school, side-scrolling video games from the 1980's Nintendo era with more of a narrative that this film.  The hero of THE RAID REDEMPTION, so to speak, is a charisma-free creation whose chief and defining characteristic is that he can really, really defend himself and kill people using every part of his body (highlighting the Indonesian martial art “pencak silat” in all of its head bashing, limb-breaking, and blood spewing glory).  Some of his opponents have guns of various sizes, whereas others use machetes, knifes, and just about anything handy that can be used to end life quickly.  One particular heavy working for the drug lord, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) has a strict no-shooting policy when it comes to exterminating his opponents (“Squeezing a trigger?  That’s like ordering takeout!”), but he does relish in murdering people in close quartered combat.  The final battle pitting this savage monster versus the intrepid and determined cop hero seems only inevitable.  If only the cop had…I dunno…a brother on the inside that works as the drug lord’s right hand man that would turn on his employer and team up with his long estranged sibling? 

Again, the battle sequences – which involves everything from dismemberings, impalings, shootings, body parts of various sorts being contorted, crushed, and reduced to bloody messes in all manners gruesome, etc. - are certainly a sight to behold from a technical perspective.  The fight choreographers (in this case, the film’s stars Uwais and Ruhian), certainly know what they’re doing (they planned well in advance of shooting for over four months) and certainly give these oftentimes-sickening scenes a feverous pace that never seems to lose momentum.  Complimented their work is the look of the film’s apartment building itself, which is a dark, drab, dilapidated, and wholeheartedly unwelcoming place of nightmarish proportions.  THE RAID REDEMPTION always maintains an uneasy atmosphere of dread throughout. 

Yet, the film is dramatically negligible at every turn.  It's very high – make that exceedingly high – on testosterone-induced and teeth-clenched adrenaline – but there is little to no suspense to be had.  The storyline, as stated, is just a wobbly, disinteresting, and tedious framework to hold up the rampant and gory fisticuffs.  Even when the narrative does manage to slow down and breaks for the obligatory moments of characters contemplating their next move (by the way, characters speak very, very little here), it quickly devolves back into numbing chaos within minutes.  Iko Uwais is certainly a very talented and dexterous martial arts dynamo, but he – lack Tony Jaa before him – has no real charisma or personality: he’s just a instrument of pain and death, which is odd seeing as he is a law enforcer.  No other film has shown the police maliciously using willful excessive force as THE RAID REDEMPTION does.  

It’s funny, but when movies contain sexuality and eroticism that approach pornographic levels they get slapped with an immediate NC-17 rating, but when films like THE RAID REDEMPTION have pornographic violence they seem to get by with an R;  I smell an obvious double standard here.  The film’s non-stop barrage of intensely repellent savagery becomes more anaesthetizing and exhausting than exhilarating.  So many people - oh-so-many - cherished THE RAID REDEMPTION as a hypodermic needle to the heart of the action genre, but I left the film feeling wholly beaten down by it like many of Rama’s unfortunate opponents.  As an exercise in style, Evans' film is an unqualified triumph; beyond that, it's an emotionally empty experience.  It made me think fondly of more innocent and endearingly thrilling chopsocky actioners of the past populated by the likes of Jackie Chan, who made us marvel at his Spider-man-like reflexes and gravity defying kung-fu while, at the same time, playing characters that were crafty, funny, goofy, and, most importantly, appealing.  His films showcased violence, to be sure, but they didn’t unhealthily champion and celebrate it with a lingering eye for appalling detail.  

I fear that if Chan watched THE RAID REDEMPTION he wouldn’t like what he saw.   

  H O M E