'The Raid' hits hard with action film fans

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Unlucky police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) can’t decide if he should be more scared of the machete or the dreadlocks in “The R

When “The Raid” had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, reviews instantly crowned it a masterpiece of the action genre, and from there, the hype machine began churning. By the time it came to South By Southwest six months later under the distributor-mandated title “The Raid: Redemption,” anticipation had reached a fever pitch of intensity, and it seemed that there was no way the film could live up to expectations. Then, “The Raid” blew the roof off the Paramount Theatre with its barrage of punches, explosions and general awesomeness.

The film’s concept is incredibly sparse: A group of heavily armed cops infiltrates a 30-story apartment complex, trying to remove a crime lord from its top floor without rousing the criminals he’s packed the building with. The team leader, Jaka (Joe Taslim), just wants to get in and get out with his team intact, and rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) has a personal reason for coming along and a pregnant wife at home. Once the team’s cover is blown, the tenants come out in spades, and that’s the rest of the film: Rama and Jaka trying to fight their way to the top.

While there are a few interesting story turns in “The Raid,” writer-director Gareth Evans knows what his audience is there to see. He sets his story and a few characters of note quickly, and then unleashes hell in the claustrophobic apartment building with gleeful abandon. Evans worked with Iko Uwais on his previous film, “Merantau,” and Uwais proves to be an action star of the highest caliber, systematically pummeling his way through an entire apartment building with a relentless fury that’s a blast to watch.

Evans directs his action with a clear eye and steady hand, always putting the camera in the perfect place to watch the numerous brutal, visceral action sequences unfold. He shows an amazing amount of creativity in his staging, and each fight is distinct and memorable. Evans shoots in lots of long, wide shots that highlight the path of destruction his stars leave behind, and makes sure there’s not a wasted punch or bullet.

It’s hard to say a lot about “The Raid,” because the film doesn’t have much to say, and that’s surprisingly an asset here. “The Raid’s” beauty is in the simplicity of its concept and the crowd-pleasing sure-handedness with which it’s executed. It’s hard to think of an action film that delivers on its premise so thoroughly, and the climax the film builds to is both organic and undeniably satisfying, especially a final fight that’s impossible to sit still through. The scene is a collision of unstoppable forces in a flurry of fists, blocks
and kicks.

From now on, when Evans makes a film, action fans should take note. The man knows what he’s doing behind a camera, and “The Raid: Redemption” makes that clear. The same goes for Iko Uwais, a quick and lethal fighter with just the right amount of humanity to pass as a hero. If there’s a better action film in 2012 than “The Raid: Redemption,” film fans are very lucky indeed. Time will tell if “The Raid: Redemption” joins “Die Hard” and “Alien” in the all-time action pantheon, but after one viewing, it’s clear that the film is something very special, and it’s certainly the best choice you can make with your money and time this weekend. To put it simply, if you miss “The Raid,” you’re doing movies wrong.