“THE RAID 2″ (Sundance Movie Review)
It’s unlikely there exists a 2014 movie with more spectacular bloodshed than THE RAID 2. Of course, that statement is a nightmare to those of a queasy nature, or with little constitution for ultraviolence. But anyone fearful THE RAID itself could not be topped, or that its sequel ballooning to a 147-minute runtime would do it a disservice, should begin to feel something in their shoulders. Not hype per se, but more like the thrilling anticipation that permeates the entire movie, as if gearing up to do something truly heart-pounding. As if the movie itself is an opponent. As if you’re waiting for its first punch. You’ll never see it coming, nor the second, or third, or the hammer, or the bat. THE RAID 2 forces its viewer to feel it all, leaving us bruised, exhausted and elated.
Director Gareth Evans begins THE RAID 2 with a breathtaking, wide, wide look at the fields of Indonesia. The film’s opening minutes play out just in the left hand corner, surrounded by miles of green, by dark sky, by the horizon. Reaching the top of the skyscraper in THE RAID sure felt tiring, but Evans’ expansive introduction to its follow-up immediately reveals that penthouse was still just the bottom. This goes far beyond one boss, one building. The criminal nature of Jakarta spreads through the streets and pushes far out into the country, likely as far as the eye can see. We only need look left however, where an unmarked grave waits open and the ultimate villain of the piece, up-and-coming gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad), offers a few words on why he’ll have to drop someone in it. Shotgun blast to title card and Rama (Iko Uwais) has his impetus to annihilate a whole mess of individuals.
THE RAID 2’s story is as simple as its predecessor (old-fashioned, too), but not as barebones. Evans has produced true vision in his transition from siege film to crime saga, one that finds Rama undercover to root out the city’s corrupt police force. This guides him through an epic journey, one in the tradition of more than just martial arts cinema, but ensemble mob films and yes, even Shakespearean tragedy. From prison riots to underworld rivalries to family in-fighting and backstabbing, THE RAID 2’s elements are ones we know well, but the masterful Evans not only wrings true drama from his players, but punctuates their plights with some of the most dazzling, punishing action quite possibly ever on screen.
Take for instance a fight that snowballs to a full-blown riot and an absolutely stunning display of utter mayhem. Just as Rama is sent “inside” to get close to crime boss son and heir apparent Uco, he finds himself in the classic position of having to prove loyalty, skill and willingness to get dirty. Good thing thwarting an attempt on Uco’s life in the prison yard midst torrential downpour becomes a muddy free-for-all between prisoners, Rama and the guards. It’s here, despite almost every set piece of the film being a compelling, gruesome achievement that Evans creates something unforgettable. The writer/director reveals himself as visionary, who among other things understands the difference between visceral and incomprehensible. Evans and his team want us to see and internalize it all, and we should. The work here from the filmmaker, cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono and of course, Iko Uwais and every fighter on hand is the proper definition of awesome. Evans lays it all bare, with stunning long takes that refuse to cut away, following characters through every window, wall and crashing hard against anything that won’t shatter.
Perhaps the best illustration of how THE RAID 2 opens its world up is returning actor Yayan Ruhian, who became a portrait of badass in THE RAID as Mad Dog. Here Ruhian essays Prakoso, and while certainly providing a great deal more in the way of brilliant violence, Prakoso is also central to the film’s earnest drama as a longtime remorseful enforcer who’s betrayed in heartbreaking manner. The actor’s transition also paves the way for THE RAID 2’s own immediately iconic badass, Hammer Girl. With limited screen time, intriguing, and ambiguous physical characteristic and of course, her holy shit moves with weapon of choice, Julie Estelle rockets Hammer Girl to a touchstone via hammer claw through chin and other such savagery. And that’s not to mention her partner-in-crime, whose use of aluminum bat showcases some of the dark levity Evans allows to spill in, which also includes a bit of stylish dance choreography and a tussle within a porn operation.
THE RAID 2 is just a robust, unforgettable experience. It’s tale-well-told with absolutely groundbreaking, varied, horrifying action work, from hand-to-hand Silat, to blunt objects, to an amazing car chase. It feels neither false, nor hyperbole, to call this one of the best films action, or ultraviolent cinema, has to offer.