Raid 2: Berandal, The (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Not since Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” have I felt so exhilarated after having seen an action picture packed with glorious violence that is very gruesome but actually highly entertaining—even if its running time is a hundred fifty minutes. Written and directed by Gareth Evans, do not be fooled by the synopses of “The Raid 2: Berandal.” It is not just a movie for men. It is a movie for everyone who can appreciate visual acrobatics through martial arts. Oh, and it offers a memorable car chase, too.
Rama (Iko Uwais—who clearly has the goods to carry a big-budget Hollywood action flick) agrees to go undercover in order to discover the identities of crooked cops. To do this, he must get in the good graces of a gangster’s son named Uco (Arifin Putra). The catch: Uco is currently incarcerated and so Rama must commit a crime, one that will impress the man of interest—or at least snag his attention, in order to be thrown behind bars.
American filmmakers who wish to have some sort of a hand-to-hand combat in their work should look up to this movie for inspiration. It is generous with wide shots, the editing is never choppy so we can actually appreciate each punch and kick thrown, it knows when to use silence so we can wince at every blow, and the style—whether in terms of location, style of clothing, sort of weapons wielded—changes with every big action scene. It is such a joy to watch this level of creativity. The writer-director knows his material is over-the-top but he has fun with it. Thus, we enjoy what’s projected on screen.
Its story and characterization are not the film’s strongest attributes. The story is standard and unable to move forward at times but it is solid enough because we really do believe that the gangsters, once rivals, have a truce and could be on the verge of war given a powerful enough push. In terms of character development, I wished that Rama had more of a backstory. He wants to protect his wife and young son from harm but what else is there to him? In action films, it is almost always that the central protagonist is not the most interesting character. It would have been fresh icing on the cake if Evans had found a way to turn that around.
More than half of the action sequences stand out. The prison fight scene in the mud is shockingly beautiful and well-choreographed. The way it starts off with so much verve and kinetics then ending with a slow descent into exhaustion shows clear command of pacing. The one and only car chase during the latter half makes American car chases look like a joke. Here, we are actually able to feel the danger inside and outside of the cars—even if they do not smash against each other.
However, in my eyes, the best is saved for the finale. Rama’s duels with Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), and The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) is close to perfection every step of the way. I was so into it, I found myself saying things like: “Break his arm!”, “Hit his face with the bat!”, and “I don’t care if she’s a girl. Hit her harder! She has two [expletive] hammers and she’s about to pound your face in!” Clearly, I loved every single minute of it.
“The Raid 2” is shot, directed, and choreographed with great skill. If one went into it hoping for a well-drawn and executed character arc, one would likely to be disappointed. But if one were hoping for an symphony of violence that engages all the senses, this would likely impress. It has to be seen to be believed.
Serbuan maut (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
In order to capture and shut down a gangster who provided housing for all sorts of criminals, a group of cops had to storm a building and make their way up to the fifteenth floor where Tama (Ray Sahetapy) hid with his most trusted henchmen (Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian). The surreptitious incursion went rather swimmingly until the team reached the sixth floor. Once the alarm was triggered, the tables were turned and a bloody massacre began. The first act of “Serbuan maut,” written and directed by Gareth Evans, worked as suspenseful action-thriller because of the way the camera lingered and paid attention to the exact steps necessary for the cops to get into the building sans casualty. As the men took nervous but careful breaths and lined up along the compound’s walls with their courage, helmets, and guns, it felt like we were watching a real storming of a criminal base. I was so engrossed with what was happening, even a simple act of picking a lock triggered my imagination to think of the worst. For instance, what if the lock, once opened, had some sort of a fatal trap? When silence enveloped the action and the camera was up close on people’s faces, the writer-director capitalized on our suspicion that something was about to go very wrong. Unfortunately, the film’s middle section up until the very end felt lazy although that isn’t to suggest that it was without inspiration. The martial arts performed by the actors and stuntmen forced my eyes to widen in disbelief and fear while my mouth dropped open because of the level of violence shown on screen. There were plenty of moments when I flinched and psychically begged everyone to stop hurting each other. Everything was free game: the slicing of the flesh using small knives and machetes, releasing of bullets from guns placed directly on the back of the head as well as on the face, breaking of spinal cords using bare hands and convenient nearby objects, among others. It managed to keep my interest for some time. However, as it went on, I eventually craved for something more. The last thing I wanted was a story but the script was adamant in pursuing one. Between the action sequences were conversations that were frustratingly vague. Names were mentioned but it was difficult to keep track of who was being referred to and if the character was still alive or long dead. There was mindless talk of corruption and unexpected connections between two sides. I found it difficult to care. What I craved to see was more variation of the physical combat. The problem was each room and hallway looked pretty much the same: gray, dingy, and grimy. And since there weren’t enough significant changes in the environment, fighting styles and strategies remained the same and I noticed myself becoming increasingly bored. Luckily, Rama (Iko Uwais), our main protagonist who had a pregnant wife at home, had a very human quality about him. I suspected that if the script that been stronger, Uwais might have successfully played a hero who we could both root for and understand. I give “The Raid: Redemption” some credit for not mistaking bullets penetrating walls, appliances, and bodies as thrilling. Too bad, though, that its occasional peaks of creativity were hampered by monotonous dialogue.