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Friday, August 14, 2020

The Raid: Redemption

Spoiler-free!

This energetic and brutal Indonesian action flick centers around Rama (Iko Uwais) who's a newbie member of a SWAT team tasked with infiltrating a 30-story apartment building that's run by a ruthless drug lord.

Written and directed by Gareth Evans.

The plot is simple so you can get to the action fast. But it doesn't jump straight into it either. It takes the first act to set up things. Like stakes. Rama has a wife and unborn child at home, so you don't want him to die—bam. He also has a secret secondary motive for going into the building. Bam. And, the movie wants us to see exactly how dangerous this mission is before it lets loose—resulting in some slower moments earlier on of dramatic tension-building. Bam! None of it is as deep as it might be were the film longer, or a straight-up drama; it's there to support the action. Knowing, I suppose, the tendency of people like me to tune out when there's a fight scene going on in which I don't actively like AND worry for the characters involved.

Once you care about Rama and the stakes are built properly, it's basically wall-to-wall action from there to the end—punctuated by a few breathers and moments to mount up more tension. And this is the meat of the film; the reason it exists. And I know; there are so many action movies that exist on their action and are terrible. For a recent example, The Old Guard. I cannot stand movies that rely on their middling action to be entertaining. I hate them. I do not hate this movie. The action here is phenomenal. Firstly, filmed in an accessible manner because we have to be able to properly appreciate the talent put into these fights. Then performed by actual trained fighters. I'm not sure what the style is, but it's a brutal and entertaining martial art.

You've probably seen Iko in a movie before even if you don't know it. He was wasted in a bit part in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Iko Uwais is also one of the film's choreographers, and basically everyone in the film is a highly-trained stunt man playing an acting role. Because the choreography is fast, difficult, done in-camera, and impossible to fake. The speed at which these guys can punch—or pretend stab each other—is stunning. Dizzying. Mystifying. Perfect glee-inducement for any action fan. At one point a guy is slammed into a table and the table doesn't break. If you're not as tired of rote American action tropes as I am you might not even notice things like that. A table behaving the way a table would in real life? Novel! And I suppose this flick has its own share of clich├ęs—Indonesian-brand ones—in there somewhere. The shake-up is refreshing, that's all. And you'll never find an American action flick that's this kinetic and full of hand-to-hand combat talent.

American films can be good at faking it, or maybe building around one skilled performer; this is clearly the real deal—and that's what pushes this film into must-see territory. Without the outstanding choreography and remarkable implementation of the same, The Raid could be any number of decent stabs at action filmmaking. It's got the basic but solid plot, self-contained to one main location to streamline the story and help the budget; and it has a decently fleshed-out main character to keep things grounded. But then. BUT THEN. It uses that simplistic set up, and it absolutely KILLS. Pure action is often a hard-sell for me, but I recommend this one unreservedly.

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