The Raid: Redemption (4/5)
A good action film leaves metaphysical welts on a viewer’s body. Each jarring hit to our protagonist should break our skin and shatter our bones. Propulsive, inventive action is a remedy for remedial character development. Such is the case with Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption. Gritty, brutal and highly entertaining, The Raid tells the thin tale of a swat team infiltrating the high-rise belonging to a violent crime lord named Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). Unfortunately, for the men in blue, their venture into the dilapidated building might as well be a funeral march. Their quick mission evolves into a bloodbath, where the team is violently bombarded by the thugs that reside in Tama’s apartment complex. With the aforementioned swat team decimated by merciless gun fire, a hero rises from the ashes, matching blood for blood. Our heroes’ name is Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie cop with quick hands and the will to survive for his unborn child. Soaked in blood and carrying the remains of his team, Rama craftily slips through Tama’s death filled residence, using just about anything in his path as a tool of destruction. From cooking a grenade in a refrigerator to using his opponent’s hands and weapons like a puppeteer uses a marionette, Rama is an inventive killer.
Watching Rama work over a corridor of knife wielding, gun-toting criminals is magical. Meticulously choreographed and shot at a frenetic pace, each fight scene features breathless moves that are equal parts bruising and balletic. Imagine the majestic fights of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fused with the pulpy bloodletting found in a Tarantino flick. The violence makes you want to look away, but it unfolds in an alarmingly beautiful way. Leading into every action sequence is an insurmountable amount of dread and claustrophobia. Part of it is the grainy, seedy look of the film and its production, but much of the film’s unease stems from Evans’ interest in treating The Raid like a survival horror film. More specifically, it has a Night of the Living Dead feel to it, minus the zombies obviously. Much like Night of the Living Dead, where our core cast finds themselves held up in a house surrounded by the walking dead, Evans’ swat team is continuously trapped in a room surrounded by a horde of blood thirsty criminals. This genre realignment pays dividends as Evans generates the proper emotional segue to Rama’s seemingly never-ending fight. As rooms collapse on Rama, we suffocate right along with him, patiently waiting for levity generated by his fists. Had Evans delivered a more fleshed out script, The Raid would be an instant classic. Reconciling its shortcomings is fantastic action and an atmosphere that punishes the viewer.
The Grey (4/5)
Joe Carnahan’s films tend to feature incessant violence and a chaotic style. Needless to say, his filmography is rife with senselessness. Yet, Carnahan has undoubtedly changed his spots with The Grey. The grisly violence typically found in a Carnahan film is still present, but this is a more meditative experience, one that tackles questions regarding faith and the oppressive power of nature. At the forefront of The Grey is Liam Neeson as John Ottoway, a marksman hired to shoot wolves that pose a threat to the workers of an Alaskan pipeline. After his last job and a botched suicide attempt, Ottoway finds himself on a plane with the oil men he protects, hopefully heading home. The plane, wrapped up in a blanket of snow, falls from the sky and crashes deep in to the Alaskan wilderness. Ottoway and seven others fortunately survive the crash, but their hope for living beyond Alaska’s cold terrain lies under the dense snow with the plane’s unfortunate souls. Ottoway’s immediate instinct is to build a fire, but as his first day of desolation concludes, he realizes there is a far greater threat waiting on the perimeter: territorial wolves. Knowing the inherent traits of a wolf, Ottoway quickly corrals his fellow survivors and leads them in to the direction of a tree line off in the distance. One question plagues Ottoway: Is he leading everyone away from the Wolves or merely marching them to the den, where the wolves celebrate human demise with a crooning howl?
Considering the elusive reasoning behind nature and Alaska’s mounting white out conditions, Ottoway and his men’s chance of survival is about as high as it would be if they played Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun. A bleak path besets the survivors, as increased wolf activity leads to untimely deaths and drastic measures. The violence emanating from the survivor’s battle with nature is bloody and sporadic. Carnahan’s screenplay makes nature’s destructive intent unpredictable, leaving a sense of dread to hang on the cold air along with our character’s warm, fleeting breaths. The intensity is wonderfully offset by quieter, character driven moments that reflect on survival and its catalyst(s). These scenes, which often take place at night and feature the small reassurance of a crackling fire, are terrifically acted and genuine. Adding a great deal of brevity to the affair is Liam Neeson, whose unwavering voice makes every line of dialog feel lyrical. Even more so, his rigid face and piercing eyes are as captivating as the surrounding environment. Neeson’s presence helps Carnahan deliver a thoughtful film that is as unforgiving as a blizzard, but as beautiful and worthwhile as a man’s will to survive.