Film Review: The Raid: Redemption


The Raid: Redemption has been touted as the “best action film in years.” This Indonesian flick has amassed quite a bit of buzz since being unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival late last year. Due to its success, there has not only been an announcement of turning the film into the first part of a trilogy, but there will also be an American remake. With its gradual release into American theaters, we can now finally feast our eyes on The Raid: Redemption and determine whether it’s a franchise worth investing in or just another throwaway foreign martial arts film.

Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption revolves around a young cop named Rama who along with the rest of his police tactical unit are sent in to bring down a crime lord hiding away in his headquarters in the slums of Jakarta.

The tagline on the American poster is “1 Ruthless Crime Lord. 20 Elite Cops. 30 Floors of Chaos.” This is greatly misleading. Sure, there is a “ruthless crime lord,” but it is said in the opening of the film that the tactical unit is full of inexperienced cops including the main character, Rama, who is referenced as a rookie. 30 floors of chaos? Taka, the crime lord, is stationed on the 15th floor and most of the action takes place within the first seven.

Minor gripes about the tactics of marketing aside, martial arts films generally place storytelling in the backseat and place the action at front and center. Because of this, there is no reason for me to intensively judge the narrative of The Raid. It is just a means to get from fight scene A to fight scene B. Fortunately, the film gives just enough background in the first few minutes to make Rama into a man the audience can root for and Taka into a man the audience wants to see brought down. There are a few twists in the narrative but they are telegraphed from miles away. Though it has some substance, the story strives to be nothing more than the minimum.

What The Raid lacks in story it more than makes up in action sequences. This is the draw of the film and it delivers. There is some gunplay in the early moments of the film, but as both sides gradually run out of ammo, the action goes to hand-to-hand combat and melee weapons. The fighting in the film is done through the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat. Honestly, being that I have little-to-no knowledge on various fight styles, Pencak Silat looks no different to me than any other martial art used in action films. It has a blistering pace and allows for Rama to take on multiple adversaries at once. Obviously, there are moments where it is required a suspension of disbelief such as when a character has their head repeatedly smashed into a concrete wall and still has the wherewithal to fight back. At the end of it all, we are watching “superhuman” action in a real world setting.  It looks cool and that is all that really matters.

The major problems I have with the film stem from the technical side of things. The handheld cinematography works throughout most of The Raid as it helps to add to the tension of the siege. Where it falters is when Evans decides to follow the combat too closely and/or moves the camera too much during action sequences. This is a common problem that has existed in action films since the Bourne series and Batman Begins. Dizzyingly fast camera moves and edits during action sequences tend to disorient the audience and bring on near-nausea. The Raid is not the worst culprit of this, but it does add a level of annoyance, at least for me.

The other area is in the use of CG. There aren’t a great number of instances, but the few times the film uses CG it comes off looking cheap. I understand that the film is foreign and therefore probably had a lower production budget, but I can’t help but think they could have used practical effects for sequences such as crashing through windows. As I said, the instances are few so it doesn’t detract as much from the film as the cinematography does.

The Raid: Redemption ultimately fails to live up to the hype that preceded it. Solid martial arts film? Yes. Best action film in decades? Not even close. The real question is whether I would invest more time into this series. I don’t foresee myself lining up for a sequel, but if Gareth Evans can take what he learned from this film and add better storytelling then I might be in.

For fans of martial arts and action flicks or people who are curious about Indonesian films, this one is definitely worth a watch. Otherwise, I don’t know if I could give a whole-hearted endorsement. There are a few great action sequences but little else that I would consider memorable.

One Comment

  1. journel says:

    went to see the movie the other night. I liked it. The “story line” seemed kinda shallow…but I was entertained. Reminded me of Jackie Chans break out American theater release of Rumble in the Bronx

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