Finally, an action movie that's actually about action.
"The Raid: Redemption" is a throwback martial arts flick that celebrates the pound of fists on flesh, the crunch of bones, the grace and friction of bodies colliding with their surroundings — and each other. It's a glorious, brutal rush of a film.
This is an action movie in its purest form: no pretense, no excuses, no distractions — no frills, just kills. Writer and director Gareth Evans gets right down to business: In the city slums, there's a building controlled by a notorious crime boss named Tama (Ray Sahetapy).
A squad of elite cops, including a rookie named Rama (Iko Uwais), sets out to penetrate the building and bring its most infamous resident to justice. And then, after Tama offers lifelong sanctuary to any thug who helps fend off the cops, they encounter resistance. Heavy, heavy resistance.
That's it. That's the movie.
Oh, sure, there are enough twists and turns to keep viewers mildly invested in the story: Not everything is exactly as it seems. Not everyone is who they claim to be. And the corruption and lies go deeper than anyone thinks.
But the story exists to serve the action, not the other way around. Long stretches of the film play like fight-fest demo reels; the movie is largely an excuse to stage a series of awesome, extended action sequences. And it's that simplicity and efficiency that make the movie so effective. It does not attempt to excuse its single-minded focus on frenetic, blood-soaked action, nor cloak it in something more respectable. Instead, it ditches the pretense and goes directly for the jugular — and just about every other body part you can think of.
Indeed, the movie soars on breathtaking displays of slam-bang physicality. There are a handful of outlandish gunbattles, including a spectacularly chaotic multi-floor shootout that has to be seen to be believed. Later fight sequences ditch the firearms for more intimate attacks. But even the gunfights rely heavily on the swiftness and bodily agility of the traditional Indonesian martial arts form silat, which focuses on rapid strikes and bladed weaponry.
The emphasis here is on speed. A brief prologue provides a glimpse of Rama's training regime, including a dazzling blur of hits so quick they're impossible to see individually. The setpiece sequences that dominate the second half of the film retain the awe-inspiring velocity. But in contrast to the muddled, expressionistic style favored by American action films over the past decade, the big fights in "The Raid" are also marked by a refreshing physical and geographical clarity.
Some viewers will no doubt find the movie's grim tone a bit much, but Mr. Evans makes the movie's cold seriousness work because he delivers the goods. There's not much to think about here, no message or worldview, just one fantastic display of action movie choreography after another.
With "The Raid: Redemption," Mr. Evans has stumbled upon and exploited an obvious truth: All a great action movie really needs is great action.
TITLE: "The Raid: Redemption"
CREDITS: Writen and directed by Gareth Evans
RATING: R for no-frills action violence
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS