Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Movies - The Raid: Redemption review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Gareth Evans
Stars: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Ray Sahetapy
Running Time: 101mins

If The Raid isn't quite the saviour of action cinema that many of its champions make it out to be, it certainly has an unashamed dedication to embracing the genre at its most visceral level. Unlike Michael Bay's bloated, over-budgeted Transformers, this is a compact and devastatingly quick death machine of a movie. Its premise is established within the first few minutes and fully underway in under ten. A twenty-strong SWAT team move in on a tenement building where a major mobster is giving sanctuary to Jakarta's criminals. Their goal? Shooting their way to the top, floor by floor. Attempts at a stealthy approach are abandoned within a few footsteps of entry. From there, it's ninety minutes of gun and fist fights with barely a moment's hesitation for such luxuries as plot and character.

There's something delightful about a movie that knows exactly what it wants to do, and goes about it with such unrestrained energy. Yes, the violence is gratuitous, with fresh thugs filing into fights as though from a multi-ball setting on a pinball machine, only to be walloped to (or through) the floor a moment later, but the artistry comes through Gareth Evans' rambunctious direction and its stars' thunderous deployment of martial art du moment, Pencak Silat.
What it lacks in plotting or intricate characterisation - a brief opening scene of the SWAT team leader praying and preparing himself for the carnage ahead is as close as you're going to get - is made up in a succession of sensationally executed action sequences. Where Hollywood's approach to action in recent years has consisted of shaking the camera until everything becomes an indistinct blur, hoping the mess somehow translates into excitement, Evans keeps his camera in constant motion but is careful enough with his placement and cuts to make sure the choreography is always the centre of attention and the participants' full bodies in view, never losing a kick or punch to shakycam vulgarity. When the camera swoops suddenly, it's to bring some new element into the fight, whether a fresh horde of enemies or a reminder of a dropped weapon. Evans is otherwise confident enough to allow the action to build its own sense of momentum and excitement.

The electronic pulse of a soundtrack certainly doesn't hurt, nor the grainy film stock and minimal set-dressing that gives the movie a worn-down grittiness. Although there are a couple of small chuckles as light relief against the constant onslaught, there's nary a hint of the irony here that has destabilised so many high-concept Hollywood movies. This really is nothing cleverer than a movie about police blasting and punching their way through a building full of gangsters, and the filmmakers expect the audience to adopt the same face value approach to the material. It's the hospital shoot-out from Hard Boiled extended to full movie length, right down to the presence of a henchman called Mad Dog. If you go and see movies for the narrative experience, you might want to give this one a miss: the closest thing to a plot development that occurs is when one of the gangsters with a name is taken down amidst the rest of the slaughter.

Token attempts are made to pretend some subtext exists, but most of it falls within the final twenty minutes and little serves any purpose beyond giving an excuse for the increasingly outnumbered protagonists to escape death once again. One of the building's gangsters is the brother of one of the SWAT team members, but any social commentary - about how easy it is for anyone to end up on the wrong side of the tracks, or something - is dispensed in favour of a spectacular double-team against the aforementioned Mad Dog, one of the few characters to register as an individual for his hilarious near-invincibility. Any fight he's involved in immediately becomes a highlight and his final appearance was a fight of such bonkers intensity that its victors won a round of applause from the audience. The movie's chief pleasures can be summed up in how even the most conservative audiences will find it difficult to remain silent throughout: a few 'oohs' or 'eeks' are bound to creep through eventually, building to full-on cheering at the end.

As much fun as it is on a strictly sensational level, what prevents the movie from becoming a genre classic is its lack of variation: the fight scenes are never less than exciting, but repeat the same notes, particularly by the end. The first act, if such structural language could ever be applied to a movie as uncomplicated as this, mixes up its approach a little bit with large-scale gunfights and a hunt for the surviving SWAT team members afterwards. Once the halfway mark has been breached, though, the action becomes a succession of fist-fights, with the only real differences coming through alterations to the staging - a corridor instead of a room; two heroes against one enemy instead of one hero against a hundred foes, etc.

It's the Call Of Duty effect: this level of well-executed violence is always a thrill, but the formula eventually becomes too obvious for its own good and starts to feel lazy. Evans conducts the tempo of the movie well enough for there to be just enough periods of calm between each fresh round to prevent numbness from setting in, but the straightforward concept that is a boon for the first hour becomes a bit of a burden for the last twenty minutes, preventing the movie from branching out into anything but small variations on the same scene.

Looking down the list of credits on IMDB should tell you everything you need to know, with twenty-one credited 'Drug Lab Guard' roles, eighteen 'Carrying Bowo Fighters', eight 'Hole Drop Attackers', and only thirteen characters with actual names, most of whom are either killed off early or only distinguishable in action by their shirts or hairstyles. On one hand, it's difficult not to see the missed opportunities to explore the skirted-over themes of corruption and social decay, yet the purity of the experience is where most of The Raid's many pleasures are found. For action junkies, it's sheer nirvana. Everyone else (perhaps bar Daily Mail-esque puritans who will rage against the relentless violence) will appreciate the expertly-staged mayhem and leave thrilled, if a tad unfulfilled. [ 7 ]


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