The Raid 2: Berandal review

The Raid Prison punchbag logo

When The Raid was unleashed into an unsuspecting world in 2011, few suspected that an Indonesian martial arts action thriller directed by a relatively unknown Welshman named Gareth Evans would create such an impact on the genre. The hyper kinetic choreography, ingenious and stunning cinematography along with the naturally fluid Silat fighting style helped create an instant classic. It’s star, Iko Uwais, who despite being relatively new to acting, turned in a grounded and highly athletic performance and was heralded as the new Tony Jaa.

Hollywood knocked on the doors of seemingly everyone involved and, as is the fashion now, a western remake was set for development. It could all so easily have become the new fad. James Bond somehow knowing Silat. Iko Uwais in Expendables 3. Gareth Evans directing Terminator whatever…

But something noble occurred. Evans decided to give back to the country which had given him the success and opportunity and revisit his original idea: Berandal; retrofitting the original script to link directly to The Raid. Based on the ultra violent, wide reaching, double crossing Japanese Yakuza movies, it was budget constraints that forced Evans’ script to unleash Rama in the tower block instead of the streets. With a bigger budget, more experience and the trust earned to shut down one of the busiest parts of Jakarta, Evans could now realise what is now The Raid 2: Berandal.

Prison brawlAnd bloody hell, did he!

We begin the film around ten minutes after the events of The Raid in a somewhat peaceful setting. Windswept farmland in rural Indonesia. This could almost be a postcard picture, however after thirty odd seconds of this, a burst of violence shatters the illusion and from this moment on it’s gritty, visceral and unrelenting stuff. Tarantino on speed. In a lot of ways this is The Dark Knight to The Raid’s Batman Begins; Evans blowing the scale wide open and adding psychological trauma to an already troubled hero; a psychotic villain willing to bring war to the city streets to get what he wants.

You see this is not just a contained story of revenge and survival, Berandal is a vast, complex myriad of corruption, ambition, betrayal, trust and deception where villains meet in luxurious hotels and buy allies with hookers and luxury apartments. Similarities between Donnie Brasco and Infernal Affairs can be made with Rama (Uwais) now deep undercover within the Indonesian mob after spending years in prison earning the trust of the ambitious Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of the mob’s godfather who will stop at nothing to gain power. Throughout the film, Rama’s sanity hangs on a knife’s edge – quite literally at some points – as he struggles to keep his eyes on the real goal, bringing down everyone who would cause his family, and the city, harm. Even his superiors lurk in a morally grey area and as the plot, like the spilt blood, thickens, Rama edges closer to breaking point.

Kitchen fightIt’s here that Iko Uwais shows how much he has grown as an actor since the last film and in the moments between the carnage he reveals hidden depths, switching between control and fury in a heartbeat. The longer running time and more expansive plot allows most of the main characters breathing space – something some Hollywood blockbusters could learn from. The former film’s fan favourite Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhain (also serving as chief fight choreographer) returns, this time as long serving machete wielding assassin, Prakoso who arguably holds the film’s most heartbreaking storyline. Each bad guy is given a fully defined character and the cast clearly relishes the cheeky tics in the script. Chosen weapons include a razor blade, a baseball and bat, twin claw hammers and Velociraptor-like blades called kerambit, the latter used in a truly brutal kitchen-set final battle which will surely have Jurassic Park fans wondering if anyone tapped out a rhythm while walking along the stainless steel surfaces!

Now let’s face it, it’s a martial arts film so undoubtedly, everyone wants to see plenty of fisticuffs. It’s here that Berandal, which incidentally means “thug” in Indonesian, really kicks in to gear. You’ll be hard pressed to pick a favourite set piece. Just remember to breathe when they’re happening. Intense isn’t quite a strong enough word. Each face-to-face battle is a melee of efficient brutality and power and even the finishing moves have punchlines in individual fights happening at the edge of the screen. Fun is a word often forgotten in action films preoccupied with showing an edgy hero with “gritty realism” a trendy aesthetic. Not only do the fights end in substantial hospital bills but they’re often injected with humour and willingness to extend the joke. A baseball bat finishing move gag in one particular scene just keeps on delivering. Evans lets the camera follow the fights and doesn’t flinch in the face of snapped limbs and crushed skulls. What Evans would do with an episode of The Walking Dead boggles the mind! The US release has a few seconds cut from it, which to be honest seems ridiculous considering the sheer amount of blood flowing on screen anyway.

The dedication to the cause is remarkable and if there was an Academy Award for crazy stunts this film would win, scarred hands down. Even the camera operators are in on it. A car chase through downtown Jakarta which equals, if not beats, The Bourne Supremacy sees the handheld device being passed at high speed between three separate vehicles resulting in one of the most impressive single takes of the last year. Sorry, Gravity. No CGI here. This is down and dirty stuff. A prison yard brawl near the start of the film in the rain is a festival of punishment as the combatants both incarcerated and policing are thrown around in thick, gloopy mud, transformed into primal beings. We get the impression this is a regular occurrence and it’s from this survive-at-all-costs environment from which Rama emerges, hardened, merciless and ready to do battle at a moments notice.

Internal car fightThe use of sound and music must also be mentioned. The crunches, slashes, rips and gunshots roar and collide like a meteor striking an oak tree. Winces will be induced and the following silence will make you aware you haven’t taken in oxygen for five minutes! A late in the day manipulation of dialogue volume adds a wonderfully ambiguous nature to what could have been a terribly clichéd exchange of dialogue. The script throughout stays snappy, smart and cool. Just like Silat itself the dialogue stays efficient and effective, conversations between the rival factions dripping with menace and an undertone of threat.

Hype surrounding a film can prove costly for the viewer. Expectations can be raised so high that a punter can almost be guaranteed disappointment. The Raid 2: Berandal is one of few exceptions. You will go in somewhat cynically smirking at what the poster will inevitably moniker “adrenaline fuelled action” and emerge breathless, wide eyed with grin on your face and wanting more immediately.

Lucky plans are afoot for number 3 then…

The Raid 2: Berandal opens in the UK on April 11th 2014. Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Julie Estelle, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad and Cecep Arif Rahman. Written and directed by Gareth Evans.

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