There are about 139,560 instances in The Raid: Redemption where a character, good, bad, or ugly, is struck by an object, a piece of scenery, or someone else’s foot or fist. I enjoyed the first 100,000—after that, and this is going to sound like sacrilege to some, it gets a bit samey. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good cinematic ass-kicking as much as the next person. Like most moviegoers, I know it’s all fake, and that’s my “out” in terms of being able to claim I’m not some kind of freaky sadist. There’s pleasure in seeing someone get punched, clotheslined, or (my personal favorite) used as a weapon to knock down one or more other opponents. One of the best examples of the last one appears early in Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, when Toshirô Mifune’s sarcastic ronin floors something like 12 guys with one shove. That’s class.
Gareth Evans’s mostly no-nonsense, floor-by-floor ass-kicking panorama is admirably humble; it’s low on pretension, and, with the exception of some extraneous drama, is in a big hurry to get down to the dirty business of…being a no-nonsense, floor-by-floor ass-kicking panorama. Let it not be said that when you buy a ticket for this movie, expecting that, you won’t get what you pay for. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
That’s the good news. The bad news isn’t really going to dissuade you, but I have to register a few complaints, in the name of due diligence. Shot on presumably flexible XD-CAM digital video stock, The Raid: Redemption isn’t long on good looks. Some might say the lo-fi aesthetic complements the bargain-shopper purity of the premise and execution; others might say ugly is ugly.
Evans’s direction multiplies the problem. True, he can’t be faulted for the single-minded, video-game-ness of his approach: An elite team of cops tries to take a single apartment building with the intention of taking a ruthless crime boss into custody. It fuses the simplicity of a multi-player combat game like Medal of Honor, a classic first-person adventure/shooter (starting with faceless flunkies who drop by the dozens, ending with the Big Boss), and, obviously, one-on-one combat games like Mortal Kombat.
Or can he? After a while, single-minded dedication becomes garden-variety monotony. As the film was heading into its second hour, my mind started to wander a little, even during some of the insanely choreographed combat sequences. Trouble is, besides the fights, there isn’t much for the viewer to reflect on: Evans’s insistence on distilled drama is a double-edged sword. Clearly trying to make a name for both himself and his found star (insanely limber Iko Uwais), Evans probably doesn’t want to burden the audience with too much story. I would have thought, logically, that what little story remained on the table would have been treated with something other than deathly, Lumet-esque seriousness. It might have aided the apparent objective of illustrating ceaseless, unfettered momentum.