Thursday, March 22, 2012

ND/NF ’12: The Raid—Redemption

Law enforcement is a noble calling. One rookie SWAT cop will be doing a heck of a lot of enforcing. Unfortunately, he is assigned to a decidedly dodgy mission in Gareth Huw Evans’ spectacularly awesome The Raid: Redemption (trailer here), which screens today as part of the 2012 New Directors/New Films in advance of its Friday opening in New York.

Tama the kingpin rules the Indonesia underworld from atop his high-rise fortress. He rents apartments and immunity from police harassment to any cutthroat willing to pay rent. However, Rama’s squad is supposed to change all that. They are to systematically secure the building and capture Tama. Of course, it turns out Tama has the drop on them. Since no reinforcements will be coming for their off-the-books operation, Rama and a handful of survivors will have to fight their way out in the same manner they came in—floor by machete-wielding floor. Or in other words: Hell, yes.

The Raid is the sort of film that could turn the prim and proper into martial arts fanboys. Evans maintains an absolute breakneck pace and stages some massive action sequences. Yet, the film is at its absolute best during its many scenes of extended close quarters combat, choreographed by its breakout lead Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who co-stars as Tama’s self-explanatory henchman, Mad Dog.

Indeed, The Raid should catapult Uwais to the ranks of international superstardom. As Rama, he does something stilted indie films, didactic imports, and vapid reality shows have failed to do: provide a sympathetic Muslim protagonist with broad cross-cultural appeal. By the same token Ruhian’s Mad Dog is a most satisfyingly ferocious villain.

Many action film trailers just dice up some of their best scenes and spit them out at viewers machine gun style. In contrast, The Raid’s trailer is perfectly representative of the film’s hyper-charged energy (if anything, it is toned down a notch). Evans also shrewdly capitalizes on Tama’s seedy and imposing building, further boosting the tension through the claustrophobic setting. Frankly, the film is somewhat reminiscent of early John Woo, simultaneously gritty and operatic.

The Raid is the real deal. Packed with carnage, it is an old school martial arts shootout, with genuine art-house credibility. Highly recommended, it has been a major crowd pleaser at this year’s Sundance, when it was known simply as The Raid. In truth, the subtitle is unnecessary and somewhat ill-fitting, but who cares? Some also find it a bit odd such monster cinematic badness found a home with Sony Pictures Classics, but (as the trailer points out) the art-house distributor previously released Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, as well as Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time Redux, Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers and his criminally underappreciated Coen Brothers’ remake, A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop, so they certainly recognize something cool when they see it. Highly recommended, it screens at both MoMA and the Walter Reade Theater today (3/22) as part of ND/NF, before opening for real tomorrow at the UA Union Square in New York and the AMC Metreon in San Francisco.