Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Raid: Redemption

When asked whether he ever tires of depressing movies, Roger Ebert responds that a good movie is never depressing. I don't entirely agree, but there's a lot of truth to the sentiment. A good movie covering difficult subject matter can inspire in many ways. It can shine a light on an important problem and provide an impetus for action. It can, with its artistry and insight, stimulate the viewer's own creativity, or simply excite or move the audience, creating a connection that affirms our common humanity and shared values.

A movie such as Gareth Evans' "The Raid: Redemption," on the other hand, is genuinely depressing. It's a work of some non-negligible skill and technique in the service of a disconnected and dehumanized vision. The set-up - explained in five minutes of risibly expository introductory dialogue - involves a special-forces team's undercover raid on the fifteen-story apartment building where the target, a kingpin named Tama, has offered asylum to every two-bit criminal in the city. What follows is 100 minutes of brutal, video-game-style hand-to-hand combat, knife and gun fights, and about eight million ways to die, all presented in loving, gory detail, often for laughs. The screenwriting - replete with punctuation errors and "all your base are belong to us" grammar, and littered with typos - makes "Street Fighter" seem almost Joycean by comparison.

Fairly quickly, boredom sets in - the movie's tedious and tautological and totally devoid of context - but not just boredom: a numbness, a desensitization to violence and death that pains the conscience. There are, I must avow, a few virtuoso set pieces that hold the viewer rapt and end in applause; and Evans does bring a pitch-black sense of humor. But appreciation for technical achievement gives way to a sad emptiness, and the laughs back up in your throat. "The Raid's" ultrahip amorality finds its voice in the creepily sinister purr of the happy sociopath.

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