The Raid: Redemption is so deeply embedded in its action genre, it caused Roger Ebert to question the nature of genre films. His claim is that an excellent genre film transcends its genre. It becomes something more, and pushes the boundaries of what was thought possible within the constraints of that genre.
Think about the original Die Hard which emerged from a sea of unwatchable action films in the mid and late 1980s with a main character in John McClain who was smart, funny, capable with a hand gun as well as vulnerable. Mock what the Die Hard franchise became, but that first film explored what was possible in action films at the time.
The director of The Raid: Redemption, Gareth Evans, only intends on crafting a film so fast paced and action packed that it will make your sides cramp. Evans doesn’t care about pushing past the constraints of what an action film can be, and Ebert would like to condemn The Raid: Redemption for not being more than an action film. He could have given this film just as low a rating, but done so on its own terms.
The Raid:Redemption is about one thing: a group of police officers must reach a crime boss’ control center located at the top of a 15 story apartment building. As the group of police ascend or descend they dispatch countless criminals and tweakers, and we watch as the police themselves are whittled away in gruesome and spectacularly unsavory ways by the corrupt tenants of the building.
No real plot or character development beyond that, and once the fists, nightsticks, ball-ping hammers, machetes, broken florescent bulbs start flying they don’t stop until the movie’s conclusion. It’s exhausting.
The Raid: Redmeption has some beautifully choreographed martial arts, as well as some stunts that will have people pondering just how they were pulled off, but Evans devotion to his gritty visual style underserves the fight sequences. His use of tight compositions and shaky camera handling distract from the flurry of fists to faces instead of emphasizing them. His film comes off as ugly, neither artful nor well-crafted.
The other major flaw with The Raid is it’s pacing and complete lack of character development. The fighting up and down the stairs and hallways of the apartment building continues from the moment the police set foot in the building until the film’s conclusion. It’s almost 90 minutes of fight sequence, and it doesn’t allow us to separate and digest one fight sequence from the next. Without respite, we cannot make any moment distinct or more important than any other moment.
Had Evans left space for a calmer moment, he could have built in tension as a well as increased the viewer’s emotional investment by developing the characters and raising their stakes beyond sheer survival. He could have had us begging for the next moment of action to break the tension, but The Raid never pauses long enough to build any real suspense.
We are left with a laser light show. Something that moves around a lot, is often impressive in its ambitions regarding its stunt choreography. It leaves you winded, but will fade quickly from memory as so many projected light trails.