I'm not sure I've ever seen a more pure action movie than The Raid: Redemption. The premise is as simple as it could possibly be if you're going to get a full-length feature out of it. The action sequences are breathtaking and virtually non-stop, punctuated by the bare minimum of exposition needed to explain what's going on and why you should root for certain characters.
Mercifully, there is none of the by now tiresome self-awareness that you see in so many of the wide-release, blockbuster action flicks nowadays. The Expendables is fine for what it is, but I've been winked at enough for a lifetime at this point. The Raid: Redemption is a product of Indonesia; I'd never been exposed to Indonesian cinema before seeing it, but if it's all like this I'm certainly open to seeing more of what the Asian nation has to offer. As I mentioned above, the premise is elegantly spartan. A SWAT team is ordered to clear out a high-rise slum controlled by a ruthless crime lord and things go quite horribly awry when said crime lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), becomes aware of their presence, locks down the building, cuts off the power and unleashes both his troops and his tenants on the interlopers.
There are only a few characters you need to know besides Tama, mostly because everyone else ends up in one of the many bloody heaps in the high-rise's corridors. Rama (Iko Uwais) is our hero, a rookie cop with a pregnant wife who has to figure a way out of the tenement against near impossible odds. Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) are his superiors, Jaka the grizzled vet and Wahyu the bungling bureaucrat, who, unbeknownst to the SWAT team, ordered the raid without approval, a decision that dramatically worsens the dire straits they must try to navigate. On the other side of the equation are Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), the brawn and brains, respectively, of Tama's crime ring.
Up and down the floors of Tama's building these dueling sides go. There are guns, machetes, knives and martial arts in seemingly unlimited supply. It's almost as if Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan has stepped in for Bruce Willis in the Nakatomi Plaza, only, you know, the Plaza is a dingy, broken-down slum. This is the action genre taken to its logical endpoint, a sinewy plot designed only as a vehicle to deliver the maximum amount of stunts and violence you can fit into an hour and 41 minutes.
In that sense, The Raid: Redemption is a total success. Viewed early in the day, the combination of martial arts and a hail of gunfire will spare you the need for morning coffee. Director Gareth Evans, thankfully, didn't rely heavily on slow-motion and/or choppy cinematography during the myriad of action sequences and he built suspense well.
I'm just not sure I want to see the action movie taken to this kind of extreme. Violence and gore doesn't bother me usually, but there was a point -- maybe around the 37th stabbing or 58th machete-hacking -- where I wanted to see something (anything!) else. I enjoyed long swaths of The Raid: Redemption and I was pulling for Rama all the way to the end. I just don't think I'd ever want to sit through the whole film again.