The hunters become the hunted in The Raid: Redemption, a neck-snapping, leg-stabbing lead- and blood-spattered action overdose from Indonesia. It's an orgy of beautifully shot and choreographed brawls, shootouts and knife fights, perhaps the cinema's closest-ever imitation of a first-person-shooter video game.
A SWAT team on a search-and-destroy mission in a gangster-infested high rise is overwhelmed, trapped and with no hope of backup. A murderous gangster (Ray Sahetapy) finishes executing a handful of men who have crossed him, glances at his scores of surveillance cameras and urges every outlaw tenant under the roof of his 15-story fortress tenement to wipe out "this infestation" of police. A rookie cop (Iko Uwais) thinks of the pregnant wife he left behind this morning and decides that whatever it takes, he's going to make it back to her.
Wales-born writer- director-editor Gareth Evans mimics the melodrama, slo-mo mayhem and fight flourishes of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema in this thriller. Stunt men litter the 15 floors as Uwais, the good guy, and Yayan Ruhian, a whirling dervish of martial-arts evil, dispatch one foe after another in breathless, brilliantly edited brawls.
The Raid is a visceral experience, but the fights drag on past the point of human endurance — the fighters' and the viewers'.
I love the way Evans and his sound designer use sound, especially quiet. The faint rattle of a loaded pistol as a gangster waves it at a would-be victim, the thudding tinnitus of a man who had a gun go off in his ear, the death wriggles of a hallway full of bleeding-out bad guys all pop out of the speakers.
But Evans is so caught up in the visceral — and viscera — that the movie struggles to show a heartbeat. Yes, it's stunning to see one cop's final moments drawn out as a villain, in slow motion, maneuvers to deliver the coup de grace. He won't use a gun, because shooting somebody with a pistol "is like ordering take-out." He wants to feel the rush of somebody else's life leaving them. Shudder.
And yes, the various Indonesian martial arts unleashed here are novel and new.
However, when the fights are this relentless and go on this long, you lose track of who you're rooting for. When we venture into gruesome combat surgery, the film becomes a dare. "Avert your eyes, or don't."
The Raid: Redemption is like many an introductory blast of adrenalin from a fresh new action filmmaker: stunning to look at, over the top, simplistic. Let's hope Evans finds more than just cool camera angles and 800 ways to die for his next film.