The Raid: Redemption
Directed by Gareth Evans

After the relative naivety and pathos of Merantau, which was director Gareth Evans’ first collaboration with Indonesian martial artist and fight choreographer, Iko Uwais, his second feature with Uwais might have come as a surprise to fans of the first. The Raid: Redemption produced considerable buzz after its well-received debut at TIFF, winning the Midnight Madness Award no doubt for its intense fight sequences and its streamlined narrative. But the fight scenes are given weight and power by context — a dark and sobering depiction of corruption, poverty, exploitation and what people must do in order to survive at the bottom of the pyramid, or of an abandoned Jakarta apartment complex in this case, whether the guy at the top is a crook or a cop or both.

Uwais plays Rama, an idealistic, heavily-armed and outfitted young police officer, one of a group who converge on a slum in order to flush out and capture Tama Riyadi, the crime lord who runs it. The goal is to take him out, but things get dicey when Tama enlists his tenants to help him eliminate the cops. Some tenants are lackeys, some petty criminals but some are just very poor. It turns out that they’re pretty good at killing, so good that the cops get picked off quickly and the demoralized ones that remain demand that the lieutenant who called for the raid, also call for backup.

That’s when things go really wrong.

They discover that the raid they’re on isn’t officially sanctioned. Instead, it’s an independent operation run by the officer-in-charge. They’re on their own, in other words. Later we find out the lieutenant is on the take with the same crime lord, ends up murdering a fellow police officer, discovers he’s been betrayed by even more corrupt cops at a higher pay grade than him and is finally led out of the slum building in handcuffs. That he’s one of the few law-enforcement survivors is one of the film’s many pointed ironies.

There are a couple of subplots, one involving Rama’s estranged brother, Andi, a tenant in the building and a hired gun for the slum lord. He turns up unexpectedly to save Rama’s life and briefly switches sides to help him kill one of the slum lord’s best fighters. It takes a while, and it’s a tense sequence, but they defeat him. At the film’s end, Rama hopes he can convince Andi to return to civil life and to his family, but after all he’d seen that day, Andi is not so convinced that life on the outside is any safer or saner than where he already is.

Unlike most Hong Kong movies, there’s no moral authority anywhere and who the bad guys are changes from scene to scene. A great deal of the keenly demonstrated rage can be attributed to that and it’s borne out in the complex but rough and tumble fight choreography. That’s again different from the elegance and beauty typical of kung fu. The traditional Indonesian martial art of pencak silat is to my eyes aesthetically more brutal and features more and more prolonged body contact with opponents. Its physicality matches the poverty-defined setting of this film, with its ramshackle sets, muted grays, blacks and browns, and treacherous dimly lit corridors.

It took me a while to fairly consider the strengths of Evans’ film, beyond the exemplary fight choreography, madly paced action sequences, performances pitched at a shout and a gritty visual flair. I initially thought it was just another sadistic displacement for male aggression, a way to pile up bodies on-screen without much thought as to why. But my own prejudices were showing and not the film’s. Evans calls The Raid Redemption a “horror survival film,” and maybe it is. But unlike most American examples of that genre, Evans gives us time, space and context to figure out what the stakes are.