In case you haven’t read many of my reviews, let me completely honest: I’m not exactly an action or martial arts film fan.  Sure, I can admire a well-choreographed fight sequence, but I find that most contemporary action films are ruined by plot lines with overly telegraphed plot twists and athletes painfully trying to act.  So I walked into The Raid: Redemption with pretty low expectations, despite some good early festival feedback and hearing that the film already has a sequel and English-language remake in the works.  I walked out completely surprised, with a renewed desire for better action films and great admiration for writer/director Gareth Evans.

An Indonesian film basically designed to showcase the somewhat-obscure Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, The Raid possesses a stylized, frenetic intensity that is truly miraculous at times.  Telling the story of a SWAT-team-like raid of an apartment building run by drug warlords, Evans keeps The Raid moving by making each action sequence unique and dynamic, with scenes of exposition used more as helpful moments of respite than to reveal any “great truth.”  From visceral shootout scenes between large groups to one-on-one martial arts sequences, the variety is magnificent, and with a hallway scene on par with that of Oldboy and an intensity that rivals that of Miike’s 13 Assassins, it’s understandable why many are calling The Raid: Redemption “the best action film in years.”  It’s an exciting, bloody good time, and it made me, an admitted action-film non-fan, want to check out his earlier work (he made one film before also about Pencak Silat called Merantau, and I’m looking forward to The Raid‘s sequel).

However, while it’s really good, The Raid: Redemption is not perfect.  As so many action films fall victim to, the requisite exposition does eventually get out of hand.  One particularly long and awkward moment drags the film down and pulls audience members out of the film, causing that unfortunate moment when people around you check the time under their coats (or more irritating audience members check for texts in the open).  So while the first hour and 20 minutes go by like lightning, the last 20 minutes grind to a halt.  Of course, action film fans will accept the single flaw, and it’s not a reason to skip The Raid, but don’t expect to be as excited leaving it as you were an hour into it.

Incredibly brutal and rather explicit in the bone breaking and gore splattering, The Raid should probably be skipped by queasy audiences and parents who don’t want to expose their children to this level of carnage.  But for genre fans who love a good on-camera bullet wound, adrenaline junkies looking for a high-energy hit, or martial arts aficionados interested in an obscure gem, The Raid will entertain anyone who admits that yeah, violence can be fun, at least when on camera.

- John Clark, on assignment for Tonight at the Movies