I'll just get this out of the way up front. See The Raid: Redemption. The latest flick from the powerhouse combination of writer/director Gareth Edwards and actor/fight choreographer Iko Uwais -- who previously teamed up for 2009's under-seen Merantau -- is not just the best action movie of the year. It's the best action movie in years.
The Raid jumps right in, introducing a team of Indonesian SWAT members as they are being driven deep into the slums of Jakarta. Their mission: infiltrate a 30 story apartment block controlled by a ruthless drug lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), and take him down. And Tama is ruthless -- for breakfast he lines up five of his rival gang members and shoots them in the back of the head, the fear creeping into their doomed faces, while he goes down the line as if he were casually popping open beer cans.
Tama's henchmen, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), who is the brains behind the business and Mad Dog (a memorable Yayan Ruhian) who is the indiscriminate brawn -- relatively speaking he's not that big but still 100 different kinds of deadly -- along with a small army of loyal killers, insure that Tama is protected from both rival gangs and the law.
The SWAT team is led by Tama's arch-nemesis, Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno, looking a hell of a lot like that pissed off, crippled writer in A Clockwork Orange) who may or may not have deeper motives for taking Tama down. His team has been cobbled together under mysterious circumstances and consists of mainly rookies, including Rama (soon-to-be legendary badass Iko Uwais), a young cop with a pregnant wife who will figure largely in his will to live.
Easily gaining entry to the apartment block thanks to its only nice tenant (Iang Darmawan), the team is unaware that pieces are already falling into place to keep them from ever escaping. Faced with innumerable rooms filled with drug-addled residents --who will do whatever Tama says for a fix -- and hordes of machine gun-toting maniacs and machete gangs who would love nothing more than to kill every cop they see, they quickly realize how completely fucked they are. The resulting hour and forty-one minutes are pure holy shit.
If you recall with fondness (or even outright ecstasy) first experiencing films like Yuen Woo Ping's Iron Monkey, for its stunningly staged fight sequences and the unmatched athleticism of Donnie Yen, or remember the raw tension of action classics like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, The Raid is a mind-blowing, violent, incredibly fun reminder of that sense of genre wonder. There's even a bit of The Departed in there.
But it's neither the sub-plots, nor the plot itself, which is something quite conventional for an HK-ish actiongasm, that set The Raid apart. They're a catalyst. It's the visual re-invention of those genre tropes that amazes. The fight sequences are innovative, brutal and quickly paced while never losing spatial coherence which is astonishing considering the level of detail invested in Iko Uwais' fight choreography and the utilization of his native martial art, pencak silat; a unified version of Indonesian martial arts schools -- one that aesthetically spans from kung fu to the muay thai-style, elbows-n-knees devastation of Tony Jaa (Ong Bak). The myriad ways dudes get killed boggle the mind in their resourcefulness and visual clarity, while never getting actually gory. The film doesn't linger. It doesn't have the time. This is how you shoot an action flick.
Get Some Action. Introducing a world of pain, rising material arts master Iko Uwais stars in The Raid: Redemption, a hard-hitting, thug-beating whoop-ass fest.
The editing by writer/director Edwards -- utilizing the fine cinematography of go-to guy Matt Flannery -- writes large and kinetically every detail of our hero Rama, as he mows through his enemies (mostly without any lethal weapons), particularly in a hallway beat down that that tops Odesu's hammerfest in Chan-Wook Park's neo-classic, Oldboy.
Framed in a score by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, who wisely taps some of Carpenter's classic musical cues, the fine aural atmosphere is permeated by some memorable hooks that know when to push to the fore and augment the action.
The Raid isn't really a platform for deep performances but most hold up well -- even through the language barrier (Sony is already remaking it in English, but if you walk out on this for subtitles you are an asshole). Be it the bad guys -- of which Yayan Ruhian's Mad Dog is pretty great -- or the good ones, The Raid is a textbook example of a film that would be completely comprehensible, frenetic and thrilling without a single word being spoken.
How do you write about a film without giving anything away?
I'm tempted to reuse what I wrote when I nominated We Need to Talk About Kevin -- which opens this Friday at The Circle -- as one of the best films of 2011. Well, okay, why not? Word count.
"The gut punch of this incredible first feature from Scottish writer/director Lynne Ramsay is the scathing critique of parenthood and family that lies just under the surface of this very American story. Ezra Miller portrays Kevin, who due to his creepy, sociopathic nature does some really awful things for which his mother still pays a price."
Says so little, right?
The titular Kevin -- portrayed as a recalcitrant, diaper wearing 7 year-old by Jasper Newell and later by the penultimately disturbing, Ezra Miller -- is a bad seed. He shits his pants out of spite and is utterly contemptuous of his mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton). His father (John C. Reilly) is more or less clueless to the evil he's spurted out because Kevin pretends to actually like him. It's as if Jack Torrance were recast as a kid. The audience already knows he's bent.
Very Naughty. Lynne Ramsay directs the riveting psychological thriller We Need To Talk About Kevin.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is most certainly a horror film; one bereft of the supernatural unless you count it's utterly dream-like crafting.
Essentially an homage to Rosemary's Baby -- with different results -- writer/director Lynne Ramsay, adapting the 2003 novel of the same name, nails her feature debut with a combination of chilling performances and lucid direction that channels something between Lynch and Polanski while giving those influences a signature that is completely her own.
Ramsay masterfully unspools the non-linear narrative while using the initially disparate scenes to build a sense of foreboding that eventually ascends to dread. It's not rocket science that Kevin is fucked up, and only his mother seems to really recognize that -- which gives the narrative a Hitchcockian, "bomb under the table" aspect that accentuates the tension.
Ramsay, with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers), frames the proceedings in a vibrant, darkly languid way, and the amazing editing by Herzog cohort Joe Bini shapes the fugue-like story so that We Need to Talk About Kevin is more or less a modern horror classic suffused with Euro-art house atmosphere to spare.
Tilda Swinton is amazing, perhaps career defining. She's beaten, figuratively and literally, as she tells half the story with only her face. John C. Reilly continues to convince me that he can play almost anyone that isn't a vampire (Cirque du Freak).
But Kevin belongs to Ezra Miller, and he delivers in a way that puts him in the pantheon of Damien, Manson and Klebold all at once. I hope that's not saying too much.
The less you know the better.
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