“The Raid: Redemption” is the best action movie of 2012 that doesn’t involve a hulking green figure or Norse god.
The Indonesian import, directed by Welsh native Gareth Evans, offers the kind of explosive storytelling that turns mainstream Hollywood product into blockbusters. “Raid,” out on home video this week, could only muster some indie theater enthusiasm during its spring release, which makes it the most potent sleeper you’ll spot on the video store shelf or streaming lineup.
Well-armed police offers are about to storm the tenement building owned by a local crime lord (Ray Sahetapy) as the story opens. The police boast the element of surprise during the pre-dawn raid held in the slums of Jakarta, a grim setting for such an assault. One gaffe later, and the bad guys have enough time to lock and load. And load. And load.
“The Raid” doesn’t let us get too familiar at first with the men staring down the well-armed thugs and low lifes. We know one foot soldier (Iko Uwais) has a pretty wife and baby on the way, while others suspect their superiors aren't leveling with them about the raid's true motivation.
The white hats worn by the dwindling mass of agents turn gray in the film’s second half, albeit in ways we’ve witnessed many times before. The obligatory corruption adds enough texture to give the chaos shape and form. And this is rather elegantly orchestrated chaos, built on a blend of martial arts prowess and old-fashioned gun fire.
The narrative dynamics also shift along the way, which saves us from more one-sided gun battles. What's left is a sordid family affair marked by some blistering martial arts battles.
And don’t let the lithe figure known as Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) fool you. He’s one of the most impressive fighting forces you’ll see on any screen.
Genre purists and neophytes alike will wince at the violence, a litany of stabbings and punishing body blows showing Evans isn’t interested in softening the presentation. At least he knows well enough to leave the tricky camera moves to his less gifted peers. He’d rather keep his equipment stationary while his actors kick, punch and gnash their teeth for our amusement.
Performances across the board are adequate, and the dialogue that can be heard above the din is perfunctory, not insulting.
“The Raid: Redemption” isn’t fussy about its mission, proving the indie film ranks contain more than delicate character studies and political allegories. They can bring the popcorn entertainment, too.
The Blu-ray extras include more than 100 minutes of goodies including interviews with key cast members, filmmaker video blogs and score breakdowns.
"Anatomy of a Scene" lets Evans reveal how "Escape from New York" influenced the sequence involving a massive hole in the floor. He also shares how shrewd use of sound covered up the budgetary woes which wouldn't allow for the number of extras needed to flesh out the scenes.
The goofiest extra is a Claymation rendition of the film's story, complete with the film's hypnotic score and realistic gun fire sounds. It might be the bloodiest Claymation effects ever committed to film.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies