The Raid: Berandal (Sony Pictures Classics)

Alfred Hitchcock, cinema’s premiere visualist, weaved his narratives in seductive, and oftentimes grand, cinematic fashion. These masterworks were accomplished by, in his own words, “a success of shots and bits of film in between.” Director Gareth Evans is a disciple of this methodology, and The Raid 2 is an unabashedly visceral and awe inspiring experience. If you’re a film buff who geeks out on visually arresting action sequences, this film has no peer (Evans’ The Raid 2: Redemption is its equal). But life is more than a punch to the gut or a hammer to one’s skull, and it’s these subtle moments of betrayal and anguish which shows Evans’ creative fluidity isn’t confined to the camera.

We continue with Rama’s (Iko Uwais) journey, and this time his task of going undercover as a prison convict may finally drive a wedge between himself and his loved ones. As part of his thankless job, Rama ingratiates himself into the lives of a crime family after saving the boss’ egotistical son Ucok (Arifin Putra). As Ucok descends further into a rabbit hole of self-delusion, his quick trigger decisions leads to an all out bloodbath between criminals, crooked cops, and a few good guys along the way.

Evans, though affable and self-deprecating in person, crafts Rama’s world with unfailing moxie and refreshing verve. There are very few restful moments in The Raid 2, and though the more subtle scenes show the filmmaker has true dramatic chops, they mainly function as the calm before the storm. One seemingly indestructible character named Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian) has been part of Ucok’s crime family for years, a walking instrument of destruction. Evans spends a few minutes delving into Prakoso’s prime motivations, giving viewers a more sympathetic look at a cold blooded (yet principled) killer.

The Raid 2 (Sony Pictures Classics)I trolled Gareth Evans’ twitter page (@ghuevans) and the filmmaker uploaded a poster of Sergio Leone’s classic epic Once Upon a Time in the West as his backdrop. Leone’s revered Western contains various notable achievements, including Ennio Morricone’s sweeping score, the ambitious opening showdown sequence with Charles Bronson, and Henry Fonda’s cast against type performance as an amoral gunslinger.

Like Leone, Evans creates set pieces and characters (i.e. The Raid 2’s Hammer Girl) which leave an indelible impression on moviegoers. Both have a much bigger picture in mind, as they are searching for a life that exists beyond the frame. Once Upon a Time in the West centered a harmonica playing man’s (Bronson) quest for vengeance. After his mission is completed, nothing profoundly substantial occurs, save for the satiation’s of his own blood lust. No matter who wins or dies, the West’s progress will continue to move on. The railroads will be built even at the expense of its denizens’ livelihood. Nothing, not even the bullets from a man’s gun, can stop the inevitable.

The Raid 2 forges a similar existential and truthful path. No matter which side Rama chooses, or even if he ensures his family’s safety, time waits for no one. Where there is money to be made, crime and corruption is always on the menu. Amidst all his cinematic virtuosity, Evans is aiming for a much more universal and evocative theme. Rama, just like the man with the harmonica, is an individual trapped in a world that will continue to leave heroes and villains in their wake.

Of course, The Raid 2 is a first rate and thrilling action flick, and that should be the main reason for checking out Evans’ latest offering. But if you’re in need of a much grander meal, look a bit closer. The view, even if you’re stuck the cheap seats, is a sight to behold.

*** Check out my article on Deepest Dream and listen to Gareth Evans discuss his expanded visual style and design for The Raid 2.

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posted by Greg Srisavasdi