A triumph of fight choreography, spatial relations and precious little else, writer-director Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption is an exercise in pure craftsmanship. There’s not really any “there” to be found here, but as such traditional virtues of camera placement and editing coherence are at a premium these days, I’ll gladly take it.
Set in a Jakarta housing project overseen by a sadistic crime lord who uses a hammer whenever he runs out of bullets, The Raid: Redemption’s premise is almost comically simple. A bunch of under-equipped cops attempt to storm the building, contending with an army of dealers, low-lifes and bloodthirsty thugs, floor by floor by floor. It would probably feel like a video game, if the old-fashioned, non-CGI violence didn’t look like it hurt so much.
Iko Uwais stars as Rama, an idealistic rookie with a pregnant wife at home and a dark family secret or two that may just come out during the movie’s Spartan plotting. A superstar in the Indonesian martial art known as silat, Uwais is a genius with his fists. Evans’ savviest move is finding an excuse for him to run out of ammo early in the picture, as the hand-to-hand battles are far more satisfying than gunplay.
The sheer relentlessness of The Raid: Redemption must be admired. It’s a well-oiled machine, shifting backdrops from room to room, exploiting every last prop or set dressing for maximum lethal impact. The pacing alternates between full-tilt massacres to slow-burn suspense sequences. Unlike his Hollywood counterparts, Evans doesn’t feel a need to shake the camera around for no fucking reason during an action scene. Everything here is classically composed, blocked largely in wide shots, so we can always tell who is where in relation to one another. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be extolling such basic competence as an exception to the rule, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
I just wish there was a little more to it. I saw The Raid: Redemption a week ago and can already barely remember any particulars. The opposing-brothers-on-different-sides-of-the-law plot is strictly by the numbers from the martial arts movie playbook, and Evans is such a smoothly efficient engineer that he’s got little time for the weird character flourishes that may have made the movie more than what it is. Although what it is ain’t nothing to sneeze at.