Watched these two back to back as I’d heard about their similarity. Yeah OK, they’re both about law enforcement officers being trapped in large buildings with an overwhelmingly large enemy force run by ruthless gangsters, but I actually thought that the differences were both greater and more interesting than the similarities.
First up: The Raid – (or The Raid: Redemption to give it its full, pointless UK title) is a stripped down, turbo charged monster of an action flick. Pencak Silat genius Iko Uwais plays Rama, new boy on the Jakarta SWAT team sent in to clean up a drug-overlord’s tenement block – a block populated almost entirely by sociopathic machete-wielding martial arts experts. Mayhem ensues. From there it’s a battle of attrition and ever decreasing ranges as the grunts on both sides die, guns run out of bullets, machetes/blades get broken or lost until it’s all fists, feet and elbows. The action choreography, courtesy of Uwais is absolutely spectacular – fast, flowing and brutal, whilst director Gareth Evans gives the battles the space they need, framing each shot carefully for maximum clarity to the carnage. No shaky-cam here. What there is, though is the sort of inventive camera work that reminds me of early Sam Raimi, where budget constraints forced the film-maker to be really creative in getting the shots they want.
In a lot of ways, The Raid is as much horror movie as action/martial arts epic. The relentlessness of the action, grimy setting and the tension generating sequences are far more horror tropes than action ones, and herein lies one of the failings of the film. Whilst there are brief pauses for exposition, it’s frenetic, breathless stuff and nearly a case of too much of a good thing. Also, the foley on UK and US releases doesn’t perfectly match the action. The consequent disconnect is a real shame. That said, Uwais is the most impressive cinematic martial artist I’ve seen since Tony Jaa, and the sheer level of inventiveness and commitment to purpose make this an extremely good borderline great action movie.
Dredd is almost subtle in comparison.
Karl Urban plays everybody’s favourite fascist lawman with the exactly right level of laconic, lending him a terse, black humoured edge. Dredd isn’t so much a character as a Platonic ideal ‘inflexible lawman’. Urban gives him an implacability and self belief that is as much force of nature as anything else – it doesn’t occur to Dredd that he might lose. Consequently the bulk of character development and audience identification falls on nervous rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson is a powerful psychic with a borderline failing score in her final Judge assessment. The Chief Judge takes the pragmatic approach that her psionic ability is worth at least the 3% Anderson is failing by, asks Dredd to see what he can do. The Judges head out onto the streets of Mega City One, and long story short end up in the Peach Trees Megablock, run by vicious crime boss MaMa (Lena Heady in full on ‘terrifying psychopath’ mode). Mayhem, predictably enough, ensues. Much of this mayhem is incredibly beautiful, too thanks to the macguffin ‘Slo-Mo’ drug. Slo-Mo, which doubtless acts on Shatner’s Bassoon alters the user’s perception of time, rendering it a lovely, glassy slow-motion effect. Someone having their face shot off has never seemed so beautiful.
The dramatic meat of the story is Anderson’s transition from uncertain, lacking-in-confidence rookie to a woman who will, essentially, tell Dredd to stick it up his ass. She might initially seem too delicate for the environment and job she’s trained for, but this is a woman who mind-fucks a vicious multiple killer so much he pisses his pants in fear and mind-probes then executes a turncoat Judge without batting an eyelid, while remaining sympathetic and likeable. Anderson deserves her own movie.
There are also numerous Easter-egg references to the comic – from the obvious ‘Chopper’ graffiti to the relatively subtle – a poster for ‘Krysler’s Mark’ and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘Fergee Memorial Day Riots’ in a newsfeed. I haven’t read 2000AD since… before 2000AD, but Alex Garland has captured the spirit of the comic, added in even more grit and swearing and given us a corker of a sci-fi action movie.
Unfortunately only one of these movies is getting a sequel, both deserve one. Dredd is, I think, the better film, but as a jolt of pure, exhilarating martial arts violence The Raid is well worth your time.