Friday, January 31, 2014

The Raid: Redemption (2012)

The Raid: Redemption
Before I get to talking about this movie let me get three quick things out of the way. First, the original title of the film is The Raid but "redemption" was added to the title for its American release, apparently due to copyright issues. This makes sense since I didn't really see the where the redemption was supposed to be. Second, The Raid was released in 2012 in the USA and most other countries so I'm going with that year even though the film debuted at some film festivals in 2011, which is the year used by IMDB. Third, I watched the "original uncut" version with subtitles on Blu-ray.

The Raid was a surprise hit in 2012 since it was an Indonesian film with a relatively low budget from a young director (Gareth Evans) and a cast of unknowns. It is unusual for a recent foreign film that isn't an Oscar contender to get this much attention. Despite the low odds of success, The Raid debuted to widespread critical praise and immediately found an audience. However, not everybody loved The Raid. Roger Ebert harshly criticized the movie's dearth of plot and lack of character development. Where do I fall in assessing The Raid? I though it was a solid action movie, though Roger Ebert did have some valid points.

The story and characters in The Raid were satisfactory for a movie which focuses on the action, but I still feel that they easily could've been better. It doesn't matter how good action scenes and fight choreography are in a film if we don't care about the characters and what is happening. While there is actually more plot and character work in than The Raid than I was expecting, we only have stubs for them which should have been expanded. The story is straightforward: a 20 man SWAT team must go on a mission to take down the powerful crime lord, Tama, who lives in a well defended apartment block. Again, this is a fine starting point for a movie that focuses on martial arts, but it still could've had some more meat on the bones in terms of character depth and plot. The dialogue is fine and knows when to back off, which is important for a film that focuses on the visuals. The acting is also good as we feel like these people have truly been put through hell both physically and emotionally.

Our protagonist, Rama, is a rookie police officer. Although this mission is his first true test, he didn't really change over the course of the movie. At the beginning we see Rama leaving his pregnant wife to go on the mission. While this scene is there to make us root for Rama, there could've been more conflict here. For example, his wife could've asked Rama to quit his SWAT team job and choose a safer profession for the sake of her and his unborn child. Rama would then insist on staying on his job and the mission with his motivations (saving his brother) now being hinted at early on, instead of simply being revealed out of nowhere later in the film.

Lieutenant Wahyu and Sergeant Jaka were memorable characters but we could've gotten deeper into who they are (and for Wahyu, the reasoning behind the choices he makes) throughout the course of the story. Rama's brother, Andi, enters the film about halfway through as one of the criminals. This was a great idea as the brothers care about each other but are still at odds given their opposing ways of life. We simply needed more of it through the entire movie. The Raid tries to play this off as a midway plot twist but I feel this was a mistake. If we knew that his brother was a criminal in the apartment from the beginning the other cops might not trust Rama and the audience wouldn't know where his true allegiances lie. Even if the cops didn't suspect Rama of being a criminal, they might think he would jeopardize the mission by not being able to kill his brother if necessary. Not to sound like a broken record, but I also would've liked to have known more about the main villain, Tama. Was crime his only path? Tama is clearly a brilliant leader so I would've liked to have seen what made him choose the life of an outlaw. Perhaps he is motivated by corrupt police officers. Tama's best henchman and right-hand man, Mad Dog, is handled perfectly as the mysterious evil bad-ass.

The action scenes are as amazing as advertised, with the hand-to-hand combat choreography being particularly impressive. A few fight scenes went on too long which got a bit repetitive for me. However, I loved how Rama and his squad had to get creative and use their limited surroundings (such as a refrigerator, a meth lab, and cutting through floors) in order to survive. I also liked how the type of fights change as Rama gets closer to the top. The team enters the building wielding guns but once they run out of ammo must resort to knifes and eventually their own fists.

What I loved most about The Raid was the directing and camerawork, which is something that even fans and critics who loved the film don't talk much about. I guess this is because they simply focused on the awesome action sequences but there is more here than just that. The color scheme is generally drab and subdued, which fits well with the gritty tone of the film. The cinematography is very good, which may be due to the fact that two cinematographers worked on the film. One scene in particular which sticks out to me was early on as the police get past the first few floors. As they reach the next floor, the camera has a close up on a boy in a hallway with the SWAT team out of focus in background. The camera doesn't move as the boy turns his head to face the team. Once his head is turned the team comes into focus as we see from the boy's perspective. The scene is also very tense as we don't know how the boy will react to the police squad. Will he alert the criminals in the apartment block or let them pass by undetected?
My favorite part in the film was probably the most suspenseful. In that scene Rama is hiding in a closet with an injured fellow officer within a room belonging to tenants not affiliated with the police or Tama. The criminals suspect cops to be in the room so they force their way in to search for them. You'll have to watch the movie to see how it plays out. Another fantastic scene is when a character is asked to show his hands, even though that would give himself away to his enemy.

The Raid came out the same year as Dredd, which is interesting as both films are intense R-rated contained action thrillers following lawmen going up a large apartment block to take down the criminals who live there. After I post my review of Dredd I'll write a brief article comparing and contrasting the two movies.
I should also mention that The Raid is infamous for having a very poor English subtitles file making it's way on the internet. Avoid those subtitles unless you have already seen the movie and want a laugh. In that version the movie's title translates to "Entry Fee" and the Lieutenant is named Login!

Despite its flaws The Raid is worth the watch, especially for fans of action and martial arts movies. Just keep in mind that the flick is brutal and extremely violent, so you need to be in the right mood for it. Director Gareth Evans is clearly talented and I look forward to his future films such as The Raid 2 which comes out later this year.

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