I’ll be the first to admit that good action films have definitely taken a backseat to the almighty dollar. Instead of taking time and money to coordinate fantastically coordinated action sequences, the “shit blows up” mentality has completely taken over Hollywood and forced American viewers to drastically lower their expectations when it comes to the definition of the word “cool”. Slow-motion and big budgets have completely taken precedence over precision and stylish filmmaking. I mean, how is it that we live in a world where one Michael Bay movie makes more than Guy Ritchie’s entire career gross combined? It’s a little sickening if you ask me.
But the question can certainly arise, what is a good action film? Is violence more important than story? What about the writing? Does it have to be as good as Pulp Fiction or can it safely reside in James Cameron territory? If you want an answer from me, I’d have to say that I’m a purist when it comes to action films. I like good violence, great camerawork, and I can definitely live with a lack of fantastic storytelling and writing or acting. But it’s true that original and simple premises make the best action films. In my honest opinion, Crank is one of the best American action films to come out in the past few years.
I also think it’s true that most of the great action films aren’t even from this country. And after seeing The Raid: Redemption, my opinion was proven. In terms of pure, unadulterated violence, The Raid is one of the best action films…of all time. Starring all Indonesian actors with a script and direction by a Welsh filmmaker, the film tells a culturally Asian story with the eye of an innovative European. The result, simply put, is beautiful.
The premise is simple. A SWAT team is sent into the most dangerous apartment complex in all of Indonesia. They’re sent to take down the most powerful drug lord in the entire nation, who lives on the top floor. But to get there, they have to face 15 floors full of gun-toting and drugged out henchman who will stop at nothing to make sure nobody makes it out alive.
Led by Jaka (Joe Taslim), the team’s captain, a slew of rookie SWAT are sent in basically to be murdered by the seemingly countless men who pop out of every corner. The real star of the film, though, is Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie member of the team who is a master of martial arts. In pursuit of Rama is Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), a psychotic and unfairly skilled martial artist who is literally a human killing machine. A fun fact, the actor who plays Mad Dog was also the stunt choreographer for the film alongside Iko Uwais, the other star of the film.
The Raid: Redemption knows that its premise is pure video game, and it exploits this fact. By realizing that the nameless and faceless make the best victims, the film sends them out to our young hero not in groups, but in waves. He takes out entire hallways full of men armed with every hunting machete known to man. Countless action sequences highlight the stars’ talents, and the choreography of the fight sequences could be misconstrued as interpretive dance if it were performed on a stage.
In a decision that I support fully, The Raid is very short on story, instead putting much more focus into the perfection of the action. And let me tell you, the action really is perfect. The second half especially becomes much more intense, as there are less characters and more time for us to get to know the few people left alive. It all leads up to a truly breathtaking climax that will forever grace my mind with fond memories of a film that is truly unbeatable.
The camerawork is some of the best I’ve seen recently, with all angles exploited as Rama and Co. make their way up to the top of the building from Hell. It reminded me a lot of the Navy SEALS docudrama-action Act of Valor, but without all the…awfulness. Writer/director Gareth Evans knows exactly what he wants here and he makes it happen, with the results bordering genius.
Sure, when all is said and done, The Raid is a rather exhausting experience, but it’s exhaustion that I rather liked. I felt changed as I walked out of the theater. Like something inside of me knew that that is what an action film is supposed to look like. Of course, I knew that at the exact moment when Rama takes a victim’s head and does a fly-back, pulling his neck and body into a line of wooden spikes created from a broken door.