Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

The Raid 2: Berandal

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, March 2014

Gareth Evans’ second feature became an unexpected cult smash hit, catapulting an unknown Indonesian martial artist into the league of big-time action stars to rival Statham, Johnson and Chan. The Raid was heralded as the greatest, most inventive action movie seen in years (in this reviewer’s mind, “inventive” as in “how many ways to skin a cat”-creative). The fact it was written and directed by a young Welshman, with dialogue completely in Bahasa Indonesia, speaks volumes. Audiences begged for more.

And so, exactly two years later, Iko Uwais leads another charge in The Raid 2: Berandal (“thugs” in Indonesian) as he reprises his role of Rama the baby-faced, iron-limbed policeman who must leave his wife and newborn son and embark on a deadly mission to infiltrate a criminal gang. Those who saw the first film don’t need to be told that murder and mayhem ensue. But a few things are different this time round.

True to form, Uwais’ unassuming charisma and extraordinarily impassive brutality make him a perfect hero. Even after a veritable pounding in a prison latrine, he puts on his wraps and takes to a wall. But this time he is embroiled in a tale more akin to the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs in terms of its twisty turny narrative and long bouts of exposition. Whereas the first raid occurred during one fateful 24-hour period in a Jakarta apartment building, the follow-up is more ambitious in scope, dodging back and forth in time as details are unfurled, introducing myriad characters with dubious motivations and layering on father-son subplots in order to imbue unlikeable characters with empathy. (Not entirely successful, but good on Evans for trying.)

It works a treat initially, thanks to some lovely photography and stunning segues between scenes in the first hour. Daubed in a slightly bleached-out, greyish hue, the prison scenes are drab yet somehow sharp and exciting thanks to a superb soundscape. A mudbath becomes a bloodbath amidst exhilaratingly adventurous camerawork.

But ironically as the palate sharpens (with reliable red as the feature colour), the narrative loses its clarity. A writer-director should not edit his own work, but it is clear Evans the multi-tasker could not cull his darlings – what we’re left with is at least 28 minutes more “in the olden days” chat than we need or want. But then, as if he can see the audience shifting in its seat, Evans picks up the pace in the third act, proving his talent for car chases and complex action sequences while posing the rhetorical question “Why shoot someone when you can bludgeon them with hammers?”

This Raid comes with legitimately high expectations, and while some may find it a wee bit slow in parts, the bits that wow surpass Evans’ and Uwais’ work in the original. If a Raid 3 is in the offing, I’ll still be first to break down its door.

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