Gareth Evans

SXSW Coverage

Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics | Daily Texan Staff

“The Raid” was both a stone-cold classic and an ode to narrative simplicity, executing its tried-and-true concept with bone-crunching efficiency. The sequel isn’t content to rehash the first film, and ups the stakes across the board. “The Raid 2: Berendal” begins only a few hours after the first time, as Rama (Iko Uwais) deals with the repercussions of punching half of the Jakarta crime syndicates to death. He’s sent undercover to infiltrate one of the city’s major crime families, and this means landing himself in prison and leaving his wife and newborn child behind.

While Uwais does a good job dealing with the regret of abandoning his family, he’s much better at pummeling his way through an endless stream of henchmen over the course of the film. One small detail about his performance was that Rama never fires a gun — and it’s an intentional touch  as Uwais is a tremendous physical performer, a seemingly unstoppable flurry of fists and feet, and giving him a gun would be like rigging the game. While Uwais doesn’t get much dialogue, writer/director Gareth Evans is such a strong visual director that he’s able to use Uwais’ quiet intensity to carry the film between action sequences.

The biggest complaint lobbied against “The Raid” was its thin narrative, and the sequel brings a welcome complexity to its familiar story of fathers and sons embroiled in the crime world. While no one will be saying this is the most groundbreaking narrative of the year, “The Raid 2”’s plot blends elements of “The Departed,” “The Godfather” and several other genre staples to create an exciting narrative that never feels like Evans padding the film out between action sequences. Instead, it’s a story with genuine emotional hooks, and each action scene has a place and purpose in the story.

In addition to being narratively relevant, the action sequences in “The Raid 2” are also among the best ever put to film, thrilling and distinct and staged with stunning clarity of purpose and geography. Evans pulls off a trick that few action directors are capable of, letting the action beats in this film tell us something about the characters and setting up formidable opponents for Rama, like the deadly Hammer Girl  you can probably guess what her favorite implement of destruction is.

Over the course of “The Raid 2”’s 149 minutes, there are easily a dozen distinct action scenes, and none of them feel pointless and perfunctory. While the first film focused on hand-to-hand combat, Evans plays in new arenas here, staging a visually striking showdown in a muddy courtyard or a car chase that has multiple shots that defy the laws of science and are all the better for it. Another factor cranked up from the first film is the brutality quotient, and “The Raid 2” is positively teeming with spilled blood and broken bone, climaxing with a final showdown in a kitchen that somehow makes arterial spray feel triumphant.

It’s easy to throw around the word masterpiece — and I already have this week, in a review for Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”  but it’s hard to argue that “The Raid 2” doesn’t fit the description. The film succeeds in everything it attempts, telling a more cohesive, ambitious story than its predecessor, with a sharper narrative and infinitely more impressive action sequences. It’s hard to find faults with a work as completely and utterly awesome as “The Raid 2: Berendal,” and even if the film isn’t embraced as a masterpiece, it’ll be an instant classic of action cinema.

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.

Editor's note: Our tireless movie critic Alex Williams will be taking a break from Tuesday's festivities, but will be back reviewing the best of film at SXSW on Wednesday.

The Do-Deca Penthalon
Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass


The Duplass brothers are among the pioneers of the mumblecore movement, and their first two films were micro-budget pieces with rich characters and plenty of awkward humor. As their fame increased, Jay and Mark Duplass have been able to work with bigger budgets, bigger stars, and their voices have developed as a result, their films taking on a sharper wit and more refined emotional sheen. The brothers shot “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” back in 2008, and while it’s had an uncommonly long post-production period, it’s clearly a transitional film for the brothers, a mix of their distinctive sense of humor and increasing emotional maturity.

Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis star as Jeremy and Mark, fiercely competitive brothers with years of bitterness between them after their inaugural Do-Deca Pentathlon ended with a tie. With Mark in town for his birthday, Steve seeks to heal the rift with his brother by challenging him to a rematch, much to the chagrin of Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), Mark’s protective wife.

“The Do-Deca Pentathlon” is often funny, and the Duplass brothers have always been great at incorporating their camera into their humor, using zoom-ins as punchlines and reaction shots to great effect. They even get to display a little action film panache in a comical laser tag sequence, and as Mark gets increasingly invested in his victory, “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” gets funnier and funnier.

Ultimately, the film is a solid effort from the Duplass brothers. It doesn’t have the curdling awkwardness of “Cyrus” and fails to reach the poetic beauty of “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” but it’s a consistently entertaining and funny story of two brothers rediscovering the competitive spirit that made them get along in the first place. While the Duplass brothers have certainly stepped up their game since making “The Do-Deca Pentathlon,” it’s still a pleasant reminder of the potential we all saw in them in the first place.

“The Do-Deca Pentathlon” screens again Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. (Alamo Slaughter Lane) and Friday at 9:45 p.m. (Stateside Theater).

The Raid: Redemption
Directed by Gareth Evans


A huge crowd at the 1200-capacity Paramount Theatre was lucky enough to see the Indonesian action flick “The Raid: Redemption” Sunday night, and that screening was a highlight not just of SXSW, but of my entire moviegoing career. The hype surrounding “The Raid” has been growing since it premiered at the Toronto Film Fest last fall, and early reviews promised an action masterpiece on the level of “Die Hard.” Thankfully, “The Raid” lives up to the hype.

The film’s setup is sparse, letting us get to know a few cops out of a large group heading into an apartment complex packed with lowlifes and run by a sadistic gangster. Once their presence is discovered, the criminals come out in spades and are relentlessly, systematically beaten by bona fide action star Iko Uwais.

I can’t think of a film that delivers on its premise better than “The Raid.” From top to bottom, the film is stuffed with brutal, visceral action sequences, each and every one of them memorable in one way or another. Director Gareth Evans shows an astounding amount of creativity in the staging and variety of the fights here, and he shoots each of them with plenty of long, wide shots that truly highlight his stars destroying everyone in their path. There’s not a wasted punch, and each fight puts our heroes in genuine peril, making it an absolute delight to watch them pummel their way out of danger.

As the crowd at last night’s screening can attest, there’s plenty of cheer-worthy moments in “The Raid.” There’s one fight scene towards the end of the film where spontaneous bursts of applause occurred no less than three times. “The Raid” is an essential film, and an essential theatrical experience. Seeing this one on the big screen, with a massive crowd, is an experience you won’t regret.

“The Raid: Redemption” opens April 13.

V/H/S

Last night’s screening of the horror anthology “V/H/S” was preceded by a sneak peek at footage from Drafthouse Films’ “The ABC’s of Death,” which gives us a different death for each letter of the alphabet, each presented by a different director, looks promising. The sizzle reel screened last night was gory, funny, and exceedingly vulgar, just about everything you’d expect from the sick mind of Tim League and the stable of directors he’s rounded up to bring this thing to us. The film promises to be entertaining, and will likely make an appearance at Fantastic Fest later this year.

Then we were thrown right into “V/H/S,” a found footage anthology that makes the brilliant decision of showing us a group of vandals, hired to steal a videotape from a house, working their way through a massive collection of tapes, each of them a found-footage style film from a different director. The wraparound segments, directed by “You’re Next” director Adam Wingard, are pretty exhausting, and are overwhelmed by Wingard’s commitment to replicate the terrible look of VHS footage on the big screen. Thankfully, the different shorts that Wingard strings together are much better.

The different segments are directed by “The Signal’s” David Bruckner, “The Innkeepers’” Ti West, “Silver Bullets’” Joe Swanberg, “I Sell the Dead’s” Glenn McQuaid, and a filmmaking collective called Radio Silence. While the five shorts “V/H/S” brings us are varied in quality, each of them manages to squeeze out at least one terrifying moment. Ti West continues to be a master of the slow burn, and his chronicle of a married couple’s trip to the Grand Canyon is unsettling in all the right ways.

Director Joe Swanberg gets best in show for his segment, a series of Skype conversations between a girl convinced her apartment is haunted and her long-distance boyfriend. Swanberg uses Skype’s natural lags in audio and video to terrifying effect, and the short builds to a nail-bitingly terrifying conclusion. Glenn McQuaid gets special mention for his creative slasher segment, and Radio Silence closes the film out with a fantastic haunted house fever dream that leaves things on a high note.

“V/H/S” is an anthology film of the highest order, with each segment satisfying in one way or another, and it’s a great film to watch with a crowd. Each scare was met with increasingly frightened reactions, and by the time arms are reaching out of the walls in Radio Silence’s final segment, things had reached a fever pitch of intensity that was truly a blast to experience.

“V/H/S” screens again on Mar. 13 at 11:30 p.m. (Alamo South Lamar) and on Mar. 16 at 11:59 p.m. (Alamo Ritz).