We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
The action genre has gotten particularly stale here in the U.S. for the past few years. Instead of banking on new action stars or trying out new, innovative storylines, most Hollywood studios are content to recycle old formulas, remake classic films, or simply pack their movies with aging action stars in order to get butts in the seats. Thankfully, a growing number of original and exciting action films from overseas have made their way to our great nation to inject some new blood into the genre. Last year, Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad: The Enemy Within introduced American audiences to a major new director that has already been tapped by Hollywood to helm the dubious Robocop remake, and early in 2012, an action film from Indonesia premiered in the U.S. that floored critics and audiences alike with its frenetic pace and eye-poppingly awesome fight choreography. That movie is The Raid: Redemption, which was recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray. This film, directed by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans and featuring a talented cast of Asian actors, is quite simply the best pure action film to come out of any country in nearly a decade.
Like most action movies, the plot of The Raid is fairly simple. The movie follows a SWAT team as they try to infiltrate a large tenement building in Jakarta to try to apprehend a powerful druglord named Jaka. As they enter the building, they find themselves besieged by Jaka’s large cast of flunkies and bodyguards, and the team has to fight their way through the many floors of the building in order to reach Jaka’s fortress at the top. The movie’s central protagonist, Rama (played by Iko Uwais) is a young rookie cop who we find out later has a more personal interest in this mission. The movie uses this simple plot to stage numerous shootouts and scenes of hand-to-hand combat, all of which are flawlessly executed and are extremely violent and bloody. It doesn’t tread any new ground in terms of plot and characters, but the action in the film is so intense and gripping that the viewer doesn’t even want to blink for fear of missing something.
In addition to its amazing kinetic energy, The Raid is also wonderfully paced. Interspersed between these impressive action setpieces are quieter moments that provide depth to the characters and, in my absolute favorite sequence in the film, a moment of irresistible tension and suspense. It’s this aspect that sets The Raid above most action films of its ilk. Evans seems to be able to sense when the action might be getting too much for the viewer and then decides to cool them down with these quieter scenes. The editing also adds greatly to The Raid‘s overall effect. In an age of quick cuts and non-stop shaky handheld camera movements, the editing and camerawork is fairly old-fashioned. Many of the fight sequences offer long takes so that the viewer can fully appreciate the choreography, and while there is a little shaky-cam in the film, it’s never overused to the point of annoyance. Even the obligatory slow-motion shots have artistry behind them and are only used when it makes sense within the overall story.
For U.S. audiences, The Raid: Redemption is the perfect introduction to a director who is sure to continue doing some wonderful things within the action genre. The film did so well on the festival circuit and generated so much buzz upon its theatrical release that Sony already has plans for an American remake. If they are smart, they should go ahead and hire Gareth Evans to helm that remake, because otherwise that film will be seen as nothing but a poor translation of one of the greatest pure action films to come out in several year. The Raid: Redemption is a must-own on Blu-Ray and receives 5 out of 5 Flying Roundhouse Kicks.