I think I lost 6 pounds watching this movie.
The Indonesian crime thriller "The Raid: Redemption" starts off like a rocket and then gathers up speed as it races from one wild martial arts melee to the next.
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"The Raid: Redemption"★ ★ ★ ★
Starring: Ika Uwais, Ananda George, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Other: A Sony Pictures Classics release. In Indonesian with subtitles. At the Century Centre and River East in Chicago, and the Evanston CineArts 6. Rated R for extreme violence, language. 101 minutes
You wince, duck and hide your eyes during these intricately choreographed sequences.
No matter how outrageous the stunts and fights become, they've been grounded in just enough realism to make us gasp, or at least nervously laugh at their sheer inventiveness and raw power.
Just when you think, Wow, there's no way anyone can top that! Welsh-born director Gareth Evans and his hyper-hopping cast of caffeinated combatants take things two steps higher.
Then they top that, too!
The moment that a S.W.A.T.-like team of cops executes a raid on a crime-infested 15-story building, "The Raid" quantum leaps into surrealistic, exquisitely rendered ballets of violence, eloquent and shocking cinematic mashups of sights and sounds that Sam "The Wild Bunch" Peckinpah would admire, if not worship.
The plot, about as elemental as a movie can get, concerns unseasoned cops on their way to locate and arrest powerful drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy).
Immediately, the cops lose the element of surprise and Tama's men -- trained and armed for raids like this one -- massacre the police, leaving alive only a few to battle their way to the 15th floor where Tama and his inner circle of toadies await.
Among the survivors is the quasi-main character, a rookie named Rama (Iko Uwais, star of Evans' earlier action hit "Merantau"). He has promised his pregnant wife he'd be careful on this assignment.
With him are white-haired Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), who may not be as true blue as he should be, a fellow cop named Ari (Ananda George) and several other cops who might as well be wearing red shirts in a "Star Trek" episode.
"Breathless" is an overused word in film criticism, but here it's the ideal adjective to describe the ferocity and velocity achieved by Evans' masterful merger of editing and action.
"The Raid" takes its violence to the thin line of cartoons, but never crosses it.
Two cinematographers (Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono) shot "The Raid" with as much movement and energy as the cast. (Check out the scene where a cop jumps through a hole in the floor, and the camera jumps with him.)
According to the press notes, the cast of "The Raid" uses an Indonesian martial arts form called "Pencak Silat," which resembles other Hollywood martial arts, except it's 50 times faster and 100 times gorier. (Kudos to the sound department for creating perfect sounds for snapping necks, breaking spines and ripping tracheas.)
Not since 1987's police drama "Lethal Weapon" has there been an action movie that captured the essence of an old-fashioned Hong Kong thriller and made it its own.
Now, if only the combat scenes in "The Hunger Games" had possessed half the power of those in "The Raid: Redemption."