In addition to comedy, action is easily among the most popular genres in cinema. While there are early examples such as ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938) and ‘Seven Samurai’ (1954), the genre didn’t really come into its own until the tail end of the 70’s. From here, action films exploded in the 80’s, led by stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and have only gained traction ever since.
Modern day Hollywood action films are very effects and set-piece based. There are plenty of cutting edge action movies we get each year but the high volume of undercooked action outings has led to giving this beloved genre a somewhat hacky reputation. While many hem and haw about the lack of exciting stories in these movies, which of course still matters, the big problem comes from a lack of innovative action. With how many come out, we’ve seen almost every possible way to fight, hurt, and kill in a Hollywood movie. If there is any movie in the last 10 years that has valued its action over its story and came out maximally entertaining, it has to be Gareth Evans’ ‘The Raid: Redemption’ (2011).
Despite its Welsh director, ‘The Raid: Redemption’ is fully Indonesian. It takes place in a sketchy apartment block ran by a brutal gang leader. The story is centered around Brimob officers organizing a raid on the building to put an end to the criminal operations, only to be trapped in the building with no option but to kill their way out. With there are countless action movies that have blatantly copied their stories and plot structure from ‘Die Hard’ (1988), ‘The Raid’ takes the trapped-in-the-building premise to a whole different level without adhering to the overused plot structure. The most similar movie to ‘The Raid’ is easily 2012’s ‘Dredd,’ an almost identical but equally unique and exciting watch.
The officers are massacred almost instantly with few remaining, including our main character, Rama (seen above), played by Iko Uwais. He carries the plot not only as a survivor, but it loosely revolves around the fact that his brother is a high ranking criminal that runs the building. From this we get the movies title, as he hopes to save and redeem his brother by joining this raid. While you may have never heard of Rama, he may just boast the highest kill count by hand of any movie character in a single installment (not to mention the equally solid ‘The Raid 2’).
The action in ‘The Raid’ is at the absolute apex of the whole genre. While there are plenty of notable deaths by bullet, the use of guns is over with halfway through the movie, and we’re left to see characters fight with machetes, fists, glass, refrigerators, and countless apartment resources. Every fight scene is not only innovative to the genre, but flawlessly choreographed with the appropriate cinematography and editing to capture and emphasize all of it.
The story itself is not deeply riveting, there’s no way around that. Its very barebones but it doesn’t matter. This allows the audience the focus entirely on each moment of action without having to worry to so much about what’s taking place outside of the frame. Beyond the fighting, Evans masterfully creates tension. Best found in the wall-hiding scene, the cold-blooded relentlessness of each villain in the story emphasizes that somebody will end up dead at any opportunity. There’s never a chance for negotiation, only live or die.
When most of the building’s residents are reduced to corpses, the story is focused on more heavily and the action scenes are slowed down to patient tempo as it narrows down to one plotline. This decrease in pace is no weakness, as it leads to one of the greatest two-on-one fight scenes that you will ever watch. The villain in this scene, Mad Dog, is played by the lead fight choreographer of the film’s production, Yayan Ruhain, and its very evident. Ruhain’s talent and his ability to share it is what truly set’s ‘The Raid: Redemption’ apart from other action films.
If you don’t mind the most hardcore possible action, you’re gonna have to give ‘The Raid: Redemption’ a spin. The chances are that you will not find a more high-octane action film taking place in a “realistic” setting. Constantly innovative as much as it is brutal, this is a master class of action and will remain a game changer for as long as the genre exists.