The Raid 2: Berandal
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, and Arfin Putra
Opening: April 11 2014
The Plot: After barely surviving the events of the original Raid: The Redemption one of the last good cops (Iko Uwais) on the Jakarta police force discovers that because of rampant police corruption he can never go home to his wife and newborn baby without endangering their lives. After his brother is found dead he hatches an extremely dangerous plan to infiltrate the two major crime operations in the city and ultimately take down every gangster and dirty cop threatening the welfare of his family. But can a good cop keep clean in the quagmire of the Jakarta underworld?
The Film: Almost everyone I know has a method they put into practice for doing this gig. My "method" involves strictly regulated meditation on any one movie I've seen, a few scratched-out ideas and notes for a written review, followed by weeks of soothing procrastination, all resulting in a hectic early morning writing vigil to get the product published the day of. It's how I work - or put off work if you look at it from that angle. I never come home from any movie and begin typing a report. So imagine my shock as I write this, while still maintaining the post-coital glow of this afternoon's absolutely euphoric screening of The Raid 2: Berandal.
I walked out of this movie only an hour ago.
To put it into temporal context, we're still a month out from The Raid 2's national release, and we're a handful of days away from the 86th Academy Awards. And while all those beautiful, extremely talented people invade Rodeo Drive this week in the hunt for something expensive and cheap-looking to wear Sunday night, I can't help but think of the staff of relatively unknown maniacs who choreographed a film as thrilling as The Raid 2 is. Not only that, but how much these boys in Indonesia make the American film industry look like a bunch of paunchy, old, union safety-inspectors.
This has to be the hardest working film cast and crew working in the world today. No wire work. No CG. No safety restrictions. They don't hand out Oscar statues for stitches and twisted ankles - tragically - but if they did, I'm convinced Gareth Evans and his ragtag band of hooligans ("berandals" in Indonesian) would hobble up onto the stage of the Dolby Theater to accept their well-earned rewards. This is a film and a film crew that doesn't know the meaning of the word "restraint."
Or then again... maybe they do?
The Raid 2 will be remembered by the few who pay good money to see it for its spastic violence and Olympian level fight sequences, but I can't help but think of the moments where Evans hit the mute button and pulled his camera out of the fist feeding-frenzy.
There's a scene early in the movie where Rama (reminiscent of a younger, Eastern version of Antonio Banderas) has gone undercover in an Indonesian prison to get close to the son of a local crime lord to penetrate the gang. "Prison" being a loose term in the Raid microcosm. It's a shank-rally. To train for daily skirmishes with the local inmate population Rama has sketched the outline of a man in chalk on his cell wall, which he hurls punches into on a nightly basis, hardening his knuckles and maintaining his lightning reflexes. We don't know who the sketch represents - if it's the man who killed Rama's brother, or if the figure represents the entire corrupt system Rama is trying to take down - but it's a formidable visage. In its own immutable way it's something for a man to break himself against - or harden himself against. Very much like the country Berandal takes place in is.
The tone of The Raid franchise is very much set by Jakarta's eclectic ethnic landscape. The city is a taxonomic crossroads, much like Mos Eisley spaceport in George Lucas's original Star Wars, or, for the younger generation, Tortuga in Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Every terrible thing mankind has to offer is on tap in the prison cells, the drug dens, the black market porno studios, the highrise office suites of Jakarta - all of it hungry for violence and licking wetly at it's chops. Fortunately for all involved, the wait isn't too long for something savage to pop off.
As an action film the original Raid: The Redemption stood on its own - until now. Though it may have been light on story and sets, Redemption was never light on set pieces. Berandal, on the other hand, has a legitimate story behind it. Gareth Evens is given a much bigger canvas to paint on in this sequel. His influences are immediately digestible - the American gangster cinema of Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, but injected with a coma-inducing dose of Bull Viagra. (A Serbian Film reference - hopefully my last) What we ultimately end up with is one of the most manic, energetic, and thrilling gangster movies ever made. A hybrid of Cartel politics and Kung-fu quick fixes. A Scarface with real scars if you will. We may not be able to get everybody's names right - there's just too many characters with names like Yuda and Ucok and Eka - and maybe we don't need to. Very few survive the events of this movie to make it into what we can only hope will be a third film in a trilogy.
For action junkies looking for a fix I need only point you in the direction of this film. The Raid 2 is why we buy tickets to see movies on the big screen. Berandal is a bone-holocaust where every stress point in the human anatomy is tested past its fracture limits. Knees are kicked in, arms busted backward at the elbows, dental work disorganized, lungs perforated, lower-jaws nearly ripped out at the hinges, and skulls are dribbled off of concrete floors, walls, and corners like basketballs.
And just when it seems like things can't get any more brutal, we're introduced to an assassin who dispatches his targets with an aluminum baseball bat and hard ball, and a female killer who does her bloody work with a pair of framing hammers. Whatever anatomical horrors we may have experienced up until this point in the movie clearly were just appetizers for the main course. Batboy and Hammergirl ratchet the blood-frenzy up to eleven.
If it isn't immediately obvious that Gareth Evans is the best thing to happen to action movies in 20 years when you walk out of The Raid 2, ears ringing and heart thundering on adrenaline, then I doubt you were a fan of the genre to begin with. My advice for the rest of you is to see the original Gareth Evans action flicks now, before Hollywood gets their grubby little hands on him and starts plugging his pockets with cash.
The Verdict: Like the old curmudgeonly book shop owner in The NeverEnding Story told Bastian: This movie is not for you. Your movies are SAFE. The Raid 2: Berandal is absolutely one of the best action films ever created.