Gareth Evans’ sumptuous Indonesian martial arts, cop-and-robber genre pic, The Raid: Redemption, is a blood ballet, a meticulously and magnificently choreographed succession of death and violence framed in agility and elegance. It opens gruffly, as a team of SWAT officers roll up to a rough -and-tumble apartment building, ready to raid the compound and rid it of its drug-dealing vermin. Or rather, half-ready. We can tell from the outset that the officers are foolhardy and hawkish, and the rag-tag underlings are young and undertrained. As they begin their assault, we know it’s going to be a blood bath.
If The Raid: Redemption was merely a recast Die Hard (shoot up the building, shoot down the building) the premise would have quickly become tedious. It’s a thin setup, as is the movie’s effort to spice up the ensuing mayhem by revealing that one of the top drug goons is the brother of one of the only rookie cops not blown away in the film’s opening movements. None of that matters because Evans, and his cast of skilled martial arts danseurs, are locked into the meat of the matter: a succession of clever, exhilarating, shocking, occasionally mortifying, but always thrilling fight sequences. There is a tiny goon who swears off guns, delivers rapid fire chest blows with his feet, and slices cheeks through dry wall. There’s a propane tank shoved into a refrigerator to create a homemade bomb that tears through a room. And then there is all the tangled corridor fighting, the seemingly endless slicing and dicing that is an intoxication of visuals, an imaginative variety of circumstance, and a wry, almost slapstick indulgence physical mortification.
The Raid keeps pushing its insanity, each successive moment more extreme and unexpected. As a demonstration of Indonesian-style martial arts, it’s an effective ambassador, revealing a style that proves elegant and pragmatic. This kind of balletic violence isn’t for everyone. It’s vulgar, obscene, and perhaps pornographic in its pure delight in mutilation. But for the connoisseur of orchestrated blood baths, The Raid delights, holding you enwrapped until the final diabolic flourish of the conductor’s baton.