Anyone can film violence for violenceís sake. Few filmmakers can film violence and make it not just part of the story, but also a metaphor for the brutality of life, and, beyond that, a disturbingly beautiful work of art.† Gareth Evans is the latter, and his latest, THE RAID 2: BERANDAL is not just as good as THE RAID 1, it is even better. That was a skillfully rendered shoot-em-up pitting one honest cop against a building full of thugs, with the entire flick consisting of how he worked his bloody way up from the ground floor to the penthouse suite.† Another movie of that ilk, and as well made, would have sufficed, but Evans, with more credit to his name and perhaps a bigger budget, has expanded his scope. The result is a film that is as action-packed as the first, but that is also slick, intense, and wickedly savvy.
Said action picks up where the first film left off, with the aftermath of the eponymous raid. Though many are dead, there is still work to be done in cleaning up the corruption in Jakarta. It falls to Rama (Iko Uwais), the rookie cop from the first film, to go undercover in order to find out from inside one of the notorious crime rings which cops are dirty. Reluctant, but driven by duty, Rama arranges to be sent to prison in order to win the confidence of Uko (Arifin Putra), the increasingly disgruntled scion of the Bangun crime family. Fate and determination pave the way, and soon Rama is at the center of the familyís machinations, struggling to keep his sense of integrity while forced to commit crimes, and to stay safe as Uko becomes increasingly unstable, and his father (Tio Pakusodewo) becomes less able to control him.
What makes Evans such an accomplished filmmaker is that he understands the power of silence. He also understands human nature. Hence the action sequences, superbly choreographed, follow the logic of psychology as much, if not moreso, than physics. Time telescopes with a finely honed perfection as an act of ultimate betrayal, or colossal misunderstanding, unfolds. The camera does not shrink from the blood and gore, but it is much more interested in the underlying tensions, or lack thereof, that caused them to be spilled. By the same token, characters do not merely sneer as a method of introduction to the audience. They are constructed from small reveals, a battered gold lighter, a billowing cloud of cigarette smoke that might have issued from the gates of Hell.† The suspense in each case is unbearably sweet.
While Iwais is terrific, both fighting and emoting, and in some cases both, it is Putra who dominates the film. He is the essence of suave, psychopathic evil -- compelling, terrifying, and completely unpredictable. It is a performance of enormous power and complete assurance, and the centerpiece of a film that is not afraid to toy with its audience.
Absurdity and tragedy co-exist as complements to one another, a line of kneeling men have their necks sliced as the killer and his associate calmly talk betrayal, a deaf female assassin wields hammers with extreme prejudice, to a porn actress walking off set wearing nothing but an enormous black strap-on as she stalks over to a refrigerator for a beverage while complaining loudly about the her co-starís lack of professionalism, the denizens of this world are bracingly original. Special kudos to Evans for filming a car chase all but unfettered by the conventions of the idiom.† And for not being afraid to take the time to flesh out characters instead of speeding along to the next shoot-out, stabbing, or garroting.
From the first moments of the film, in which two executions take place for entirely different reasons, we are told that there are no clean wars, and for the next two hours and twenty minutes, Evans intelligently parses why that is. With his many overhead camera angles, it is as though he is a not uninterested deity looking down on the folly of these mortal creatures as they scurry their way through mud and muck and blood and tears. This is the stuff of classic Greek dramas, and Elizabethan revenger tragedies as well as the legacy of more contemporary martial arts extravaganzas. It is strong stuff, not for the faint of heart, but it is, and I donít say this lightly, bloody fantastic.