The Raid: Redemption

Photobucket“If you don’t watch the violence, you’ll never get desensitized to it!” — Bart Simpson

As I sat watching The Raid averting my eyes every now and then to instances of bloodletting too disturbing to stomach, I reflected upon this quote. The movie’s raison d’être appears to be devising a myriad of interesting ways in which to dispose of human life. There’s bullets entering skulls, knifes ripping through flesh and good old fashioned hand to hand combat. Apparently it’s pretty easy for most people to slip into a primitive state whereby Darwin’s survival of the fittest validates the instinctual urge to “kill or be killed”. Critical acclaim on the site Rotten Tomatoes currently hovers at 84% positive. I can appreciate that there’s a visceral high from checking one’s sense of decency at the door. I’ll sheepishly admit that I have no problem with violence when it justifies the story. Quentin Tarantino has based an entire oeuvre on this fact.

Where the narrative fails is that the assaults are the story. The Raid resembles a video game, where trivialities like plot and script are irrelevant and the object is to kill! kill! kill! allowing one to obtain the maximum high score. In that respect, director Gareth Evans succeeds. The body count is astronomical. Yet even then the fight scenes often brought an unintentional smile to my face. Did it ever occur to these attackers that they’d achieve greater success if they charged all at once, rather than spacing themselves out one or two at a time? Of course then we wouldn’t get the elaborately controlled events in which every altercation is at least a 10 minute minimum.

Director Gareth Evans’ actors are more athletes than thespians displaying impressive feats of acrobatic skill. Case in point, star Iko Uwais who plays the lead, also serves as the fight choreographer along with fellow actor/martial artist Yayan Ruhian. Given the technical brilliance of the altercations, comparisons have been made between this and the South Korean thriller Oldboy. Indeed there are physical encounters contained within that rival the corridor scene of that modern classic. This movie is all corridors actually. One particularly memorable spectacle starts with a combatant smashing through the floorboards of a room with an axe. After jumping through that hole, the camera continues to follow the guy through the opening still filming from behind. I’ll admit it’s an unique point of view. However the dramatic structure of Oldboy is light years beyond the simplistic storytelling found here. There is no plot, only sadism. The carnage is virtually non-stop, only occasionally pausing for someone named Mad Dog to deliver a line like “Pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout.” Now I know how Alex felt in A Clockwork Orange when he was being administered the Ludovico technique by Dr. Brodsky.

NOTE: This review is for the unrated cut released to Blu-ray, not the R rated version distributed to U.S. theatres back in March 2012. If this edit held an MPAA rating, it would most likely be NC-17 for the extended shots of graphic violence.

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32 Responses to “The Raid: Redemption”

  1. I have to wholeheartedly disagree, Mark. I can understand why you didn’t like it, as it’s mostly a matter of personal taste. The guys over at MGCTv didn’t care for The Raid as much because they have already seen more intense movies, and didn’t see this as anything special. From my perspective however, it’s one of the most phenomenal action movies to be released in US theaters. It doesn’t bother with dramatics or a complicated plot because it doesn’t need those things. It’s a straightforward movie with visceral images that fill the audience with disgust, rage, horror, helplessness, and an adrenaline rush of excitement when the good guys turn a situation around.

    As I said, I totally understand why you didn’t enjoy the movie. From my perspective however, it’s a 10/10 :)

    • Raiders of the lost Ark, Aliens, Die Hard, Terminator 2: these are my ideas of great action films.

      I truly was ready for a all-out, non stop action fest. The carnage was unrelenting but I wasn‘t engaged at all. I tried to find something nice to say, i.e. the camerawork, physical skill of the actors. The intense bodily nihilism was just depressing. I’m glad you loved it (as did pretty much every other critic I know). I still can’t understand why.

  2. I can’t say I’m surprised by your assessment of this film, as I’ve drawn a conclusion that graphic violence isn’t always your cup of tea (to put it in simplest terms). You mention that you “have no problem with violence when it justifies the story”, and I would not hesitate to agree with you on that. You also write “The Raid resembles a video game, where trivialities like plot and script are irrelevant and the object is to kill! kill! kill! allowing one to obtain the maximum high score.” Don’t we all just wish video games could remain video games and not invade film territory? I think I’ll skip this one, regardless of whether the R-rated or unrated versions are available. It just seems like a tasteless mess.

    P.S.: I’ve noticed that you’ve occasionally been kicking off your reviews with quotes (I noticed when you reviewed Moneyball, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Campaign, and now this). It’s a nice trend and if you don’t mind my saying so, I’d recommend continuing it. “If you don’t watch the violence, you’ll never get desensitized to it!”–by following that quote, would that mean a viewer’s eyes would not open until the credits rolled in The Raid?

  3. I loved this one, but i can understand where you’re coming from. The narrative is rather light, but i would rather a movie execute a simple story well than try to tell a more complex story it obviously can’t due justice too(Columbiana being a good example imo)

    With that said, perhaps this is due to Ebert making comments like this more than you, but i’ve gotten tired of people using the “its like a video game” as a negative. There are plenty of video games with a strong story/negative, and i’m tired of people acting like video games are all the same. Sorry to go off on a mini-rant there, but i felt like i had to get it off my chest. Please don’t take it personally

    • *strong story/narrative

    • True saying it’s “like a video game” has become a bit of a cliché. But that’s partly because it seems to be a fairly common problem nowadays AND it’s a clear way to get your point across with just a few words. I think people understand that it refers to the first-person shooter genre of titles like Doom and Half-Life. Nobody is insinuating all video games are the same. The Raid isn’t like Pac-Man for example. ;-)

      • I suppose, although first-person shooter doesn’t always equal bad/non existent story. But i do understand you are referring to a specific kind of video game, and i’m glad to know you aren’t putting them all into one category

        I didn’t mean attack you like it. It is just i feel a lot of people who sue that phrase don’t really know that much about video games and/or assume they are all the same.

  4. I can understand your sentiment about it. Personally I loved it even though I agree there is hardly any story in it. It’s non stop violent action….

  5. HAHA!! Oh Mark – I won’t let you get away with the graphic nature of “Battle Royale” as a reason not to watch it!

    With regards to “The Raid”, as we said in our podcast, the action is awesome, but we weren’t totally blown away by it because it fit into the same category as Ong Bak, Warrior King, Ip Man etc etc.

    I think you have to acknowledge that appreciation of films like this depend on how much of an action or should I say martial arts/fight fan you are – a movie like this is at its core a fighting film, made purely for the fight choreography with script and setup an afterthought…..which for its fan base is absolutely fine, its what they paid for.

    I totally understand if audiences don’t engage with it because of that particular shortcoming (I did to a certain extent in our podcast) – HOWEVER – On some level, it deserves respect and appreciation by western audiences because whenever some copycat Western director blatantly copies ideas and sequences from these Eastern action films, our press fall over themselves to praise “visionary” and “original” fight choreography, which for anyone in the know….is a travesty!!

    • Like any genre, I’m a fan of martial arts/fight films when done well. I guess I just like a bit more story. If I may make an analogy, The Raid is to martial arts what pornography is to an erotic thriller. It’s a reduction of the style down to its lowest common denominator.

      I guess you weren’t as big a fan as I had thought. I re-listened to your podcast. My feelings weren’t too far off from how the Beast felt about it. (Straight to DVD). As always I appreciate your insight.

  6. sanclementejedi Says:

    Mark while I agree that the film had most of the flaws you mentioned, I still ended up loving this film. To me anyway this seemed like the best action film I had seen in years.

  7. Great post, Mark! It’s refreshing to see a review that doesn’t overly praise this film and actually takes the time to point out its flaws (or one big flaw, I guess). A less-than-impressive story is a common problem with action films and we’ve in a way grown accustomed. I hope it opens here soon. I’m very curious about this one.

  8. martin250 Says:

    haven’t decided yet on whether to see this but after your review, probably not. it seems to lack a story and is aimed for younger viewers, martial arts enthusiasts, and hardcore fight fans. but if this was released during my teen years (am now in 30’s) and headlined by say Van Damme(for example), i might have been lined up at the theaters during its first week. but for now, guess am slowly tiring of this type of movies.

    • Give me Bloodsport. Though JCVD films could be derided as simplistic, at least they were good fun. This achieved a level of sadism that was indefensible.

  9. martin250 Says:

    good review mark

  10. I am behind you on your assessment. Things were happening but they //weren’t// happening because it was the same thing over and over. I checked my watch a lot.

    My biggest problem with it was not necessarily the violence. I hated looking at the same drab milieu. The rooms changed… but they looked identical to the one we were in just before. And I wasn’t impressed that the environment was not used to its greatest advantage. There were times when I noticed potential weapons in the background and no one bothered to grab them. I’d rather fight with a durable stick than my fists if I know that I have to fight 100 more men after I destroy this douche in front of me. =p

    • For a better martial arts movie that incorporates its environment really well into the action, take a look at Prachya Pinkaew’s “Chocolate” if you haven’t seen it.

      • Apparently Chocolate is a Thai film. I’ve never even heard of it, but I like this suggestion very much. I’m always open to try new films. Thanks!

    • You sir are brilliant. I didn’t mention any of these things, but you’re right on target about the ugly, disgusting environment. Also when people came at them with knives or fists why didn’t someone just pick up a gun and blow them all away. The film was stupid on top of all the other issues.

  11. This is the kind of movie you need to prepare for. Know what you’re getting into. A hardcore violent, kill fest. Story doesn’t really matter, fighting for survival is the story.

  12. I was going to rent Cabin in the Woods today, but Redbox didn’t have it. Everything was “seen it”, “oh God no”, “seen it”, “why do they still make this crap”, “seen it”…you get the picture. Anyway, I rented this movie just to see what I thought of it. I’ll hope for the best, but after negative reaction from both Ebert and you, I’ll expect the worst.

  13. I should have just listened to you. I hated this movie, even more than you did.

    • I can understand why you watched this. The film got great reviews, so you had to see for yourself. I no longer look at the percentage on rottentomatoes but rather which critics liked or disliked a film. Ebert is a pretty good guy to follow. Your other favorite critic ( ;-) ) also warned you about this so I’m not surprised you hated it. GMTA

  14. Just got round to watching this and relieved I’m not the only one to find this wholly unsatisfying. I tend to avoid martial arts films, because they’re too samey, although one or two I have liked. The worst thing about this is the dialogue – I wasn’t expecting much, but some of the quotes seemed to be deliberately cringe worthily bad – I laughed. A lot.

    • I was surprised with how this film has been elevated over many other martial arts films as if The Raid is high art. In fact it‘s very formulaic and I still don’t see what the fuss is about.

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