The set-up is simple: A van full of cops is going to raid a building full of criminals, quickly and quietly, hoping to take down the kingpin upstairs, once and for all. The Raid: Redemption is all business like that. The first shot of the film gives us a watch and a gun – in essence, a ticking clock and one of many means by which to end meanies. Chances are that anyone watching is already familiar with the ass-kicking abilities of star Iko Uwais from director Gareth Evans' previous film, Merantau, and even if they aren't, they're swiftly introduced to his Officer Rama kissing his pregnant wife goodbye before heading out on the aforementioned mission. That alone seals the deal – this guy is our hero, and while he's not invincible, he'll certainly put up one hell of a fight.
If Rama is the good guy, then Tama (Ray Sahetapy) is the big baddie, with two chief henchmen by his side: Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). That's not the kicker, though: The reason this police force must use extreme discretion is because Tama harbors 15 floors' worth of crooks and thugs at his estate, all of whom will turn into a fighting force at his disposal should the need ever arise. It soon does, and from that moment on, Evans and Co. scarcely let up as the remaining cops are forced to fend off countless criminals in the name of pure survival.
Men on both sides – it's worth noting that there is hardly an XX-chromosome in sight, save for one sensible tenant's sick wife – arm themselves with handguns, knives, sniper rifles, grenades, axes, gas tanks, machetes and somehow more before ultimately settling for their bare hands. (Although some, like Mad Dog, prefer it that way in the first place: “This is the thing ... this is what I do.”) The team blitzes through the first couple of floors at the outset. All the rooms and hallways boast a critically grungy set design, with plenty of furniture, filing cabinets, drug labs, windows and walls against or through which foes can be thrown.
A vital sense of geography becomes apparent as Rama and the others split up, fight back and occasionally retreat, and each scrap lends itself to a distinct setting or style. Most rooms are grimy, some neon-tinted and one's even a walk-in freezer if memory serves correctly. (I haven't the foggiest what this building must have been prior to its new landlord taking over.) The choreography is never less than convincing, the momentum rarely less than masterful; in serving as his own editor, Evans respects the rhythm of the individual stunts as well as the greater sense of pacing, and the camera is almost as fluid as the fighters, pushing in as they punch away and often pivoting on a dime from an overhead view of the mayhem. Even better are the palpably tense moments when discretion proves every bit as necessary as the full-on assaults are. One scene involving a machete and a crawlspace isn't just suspenseful, but also populated with small-yet-smart gestures that inform the picture overall.
It would all be for naught if the entire cast wasn't already masterfully trained to duke it out. Although it would be easy to spotlight only Uwais' remarkable physical agility and sheer force, nobody makes it easy for him. Credit is due as well to the sound team – the violence in the final fight seems every bit as visceral as that of the first.
Add a propulsive score and an unspoken, un-winking reverence for claustrophobic melees of the '70s and '80s and you have yourself one fiercely entertaining action film. It's plain, it's simple and it fucking rocks.
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