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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘The Raid 2’: It’s ultra-violent, and it’s art

It turns out that "The Raid 2" is sticking around for another week. This is good news for fans of action movies, though perhaps a bit disturbing to those movie fans who get upset over cinematic depictions of violence. As I point out in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, "The Raid 2" is ultra-violent. That said, it's also — in its own way — a work of art.

My review follows: 

On occasion, I get together with a couple of friends to enjoy a Guys’ Movie Night. My pal Dan Fratini built a man-cave that is straight out of Science Digest, boasting a huge HD-TV, Blu-ray capability and a Surround-Sound system that – amped to 11 – would make your ears bleed. Our scotch-fueled screening of “It Might Get Loud” – Davis Guggenheim’s 2008 documentary featuring guitarists Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge – was, no surprise, legendary.

Last year,  I decided to energize things by bringing along a Blu-ray DVD of a movie out of Indonesia called “The Raid: Redemption.” Written and directed by Welsh-born director Gareth Evans, but shot in and around Jakarta – and boasting Indonesian dialogue – “The Raid: Redemption” is a taut, 101-minute thriller about an unauthorized SWAT team attack on a gangland lair that, almost immediately, goes wrong. Pretty soon, the platoon of cops is fighting, floor-by-floor, through a fortified apartment complex just to survive.

That movie’s protagonist – a rookie cop named Rama – is basically the only character who shows up in “The Raid 2,” which is now playing at AMC River Park Square. The only other survivors disappear, one way or another, within the sequel’s first few minutes. But Rama, having been taken into custody, is given a choice: Go undercover and help root out the crooked cops bankrolling the country’s criminal underworld, or go back to his regular life and know that he, his wife and his son will be marked for death. Not much of a choice, really.

So Rama agrees to go to jail, where – through a couple of amazing fight sequences, one set in a lavatory stall, the other in a mud-filled prison yard – he is able to ingratiate himself with the son of a noted mob lord. Once he is released, he goes to work for the son and ends up embroiled in a struggle featuring near-Shakespearean intrigue, ambition, deception and betrayal. What’s worse, even as Jakarta’s various crime factions begin to square off, Rama finds himself cut off, afraid to trust anyone – including the boss cop who recruited him.

Any competent filmmaker could do something with this richly detailed plotline. But Evans is far more than simply competent. Instead of making a mere action flick, he is channeling Martin Scorsese; “The Raid 2,” in fact, bears more than a passing similarity to Scorsese’s film “The Departed.” And Evans’ techniques, especially leading up to the fight scenes – all choreographed by star Iko Uwais – are virtual mini-classes in how to build cinematic tension – not to mention how to release it.

Granted, “The Raid 2” is overly long at 150 minutes. It’s complex enough to have you guessing not just what’s going on but also who is doing what to whom. And it’s as violent as any movie you’re likely to see outside straight torture porn. Maybe even snuff porn.

But unlike so many American directors, Evans doesn’t just exploit action: He uses it to probe larger issues of the human experience. I can’t wait to see “The Raid 3,” sitting in the comfort of my friend’s man-cave, preferably sipping a glass of 10-year-old scotch.