The Raid: Redemption is unwatchably bad – a film that has no ambition other than to be noisy, aggressive, and relentlessly violent. Watching it is a little like being trapped in an arcade game and having absolutely no control over it. The characters, developed solely on shallow and overused clichés, are essentially targets in a shooting gallery, most of them serving no purpose apart from awaiting their cue to die in a savage attack. There are basically three types of weapons featured in this film: (1) Guns; (2) machetes; (3) human fists. The first two are used in scenes so brainless and bloody that they transcend goofy entertainment and achieve shameless exploitation status. The third, as you may have surmised, puts the film in the category of martial arts, a genre that has nothing to offer apart from pointless spectacle.
Most of the action is captured on the Queasy Cam, so even if you do appreciate martial arts, the picture is usually so shaky that the choreography is virtually undetectable. The only time the camera holds still is when someone is stabbed, or shot, or sliced, or having their backs broken or throats slit. Writer/director Gareth Evans doesn’t care about a genuine adrenaline rush, nor apparently about humanizing his characters. I’m not against cinematic violence, but it can’t simply be glorified. It has to have some meaning, some sense that it belongs in the story. The only way such a thing is possible is if you take the time to develop your characters into people we can actually care about. Otherwise, we have little more than pieces of meat in a grocery store – neatly saran-wrapped but giving no indication that they were once a part of something living.
The film does occasionally pause to take its breath, but that doesn’t mean it delves into anything resembling a plot. Not by my understanding, at least. The few scraps of information I gathered were not only maddeningly conventional but also so poorly developed that it was next to impossible to determine who was doing what and why. Even if there is a plot, it’s unlikely that any potential audience will hold the slightest interest in it. All we’re made to focus on is the violence, perhaps in the misguided belief that what was being depicted was escapist fun. A masked superhero getting into hand-to-hand combat with his archenemy is escapist fun; men getting their brains blown out against filthy concrete walls, on the other hand, is unpleasant and needlessly excessive.
The set up, so far as I can tell, involves a gang of madmen and murderers housed up in a derelict apartment building. No rival gang is able to penetrate its walls. Neither are the police. That’s because it’s overseen by a ruthless crime lord named Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy), who has so many surveillance cameras hidden all throughout the building that it isn’t possible to get anything past him. Sent in to take the crime lord down is a surprisingly small squad of a SWAT raid team led by Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), a senior police officer. Many recognize this mission as a fool’s errand, and so it is, although decency prevents me from telling you why. The main character is a member of this rookie team. His name is Rama (Iko Uwais), and at the start of the film, he leaves behind a pregnant wife.
Rama has reasons for taking part in this mission apart from the obvious. I will not say what they are, as I’m not allowed to spoil anything for you. What I will say is that it factors into a plot twist so manufactured that it might as well listed in a rulebook of clichés. Rama and his team navigate the floors of the building one by one, repeatedly running into ambushes of men with machine guns and machetes. I’ll spare you graphic descriptions of the many bullet wounds and hack jobs shown all throughout, although I feel it necessary to warn you that one of the people killed is a boy no older than twelve. As the rookie team is decimated one by one, Rama will take part in a completely unnecessary and unresolved subplot involving a frightened tenant and his ill wife, who needs her medication.
As of the date this review was written, The Raid: Redemption has earned an 83% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Am I the only one baffled by this? Exactly what is it about senseless carnage that audiences and critics find so appealing? This is an appalling movie that mistakes brutality and bloodshed for entertaining action violence. That most of this shot with cameras that appear to be caught in an earthquake doesn’t help matters much, nor does the fact that the color scheme is dim and muddy. Even the blood, which basically replaces paint for the walls and floors, is an ugly dark shade, looking more like the contents of a sewer pipe than like an organic fluid. If a movie like this qualifies as praiseworthy, a serious shift in thought will soon be our only salvation.
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Sony Pictures Classics