Sunday, June 3, 2012

DOUBLE FEATURE: The Raid: Redemption and Lockout

The Raid: Redeption - 2011, Gareth Evans
Lockout - James Mather, Stephen St. Leger

I don't remember the last time I've watched two movies in the theatre back to back.  I'm going to guess it was a festival, probably four years ago or more.  It's actually something I used to do more frequently when I was single and childless, with no real constraints or demands upon my time and having long ago gotten comfortable attending the cinema by my lonesome.  The opportunity presented itself to cram in two films in one evening, with David no less, although such an endeavor required, well, not so much strategic planning as a willingness to watch whatever it was that fit the scheduled block of time.

There's not a a whole lot of connective tissue between The Raid: Redemption and Lockout, although both are international productions, with The Raid shot in Indonesia with an Indonesian cast by a Welsh director, and Lockout starring a bevvy of international talent, and a product of French producer Luc Besson's steadily churning action movie brain.  As well, both seem to owe a tremendous debt to John Carpenter, not that he's the sole source for either story or structure for these films, but he's certainly the most prominent namecheck.

The Raid: Redemption is a throwback to the 70's in-over-their-heads, rock-and-a-hardplace action movies, ala Assault on Precinct 13 or The Warriors.  It's a completely stripped down plot and script, practically threadbare, with just enough of a story, and a pinch of characterization to hang its relentless martial-arts extravaganza hat on.

The premise of the film finds a compact police SWAT team attacking a notoriously impenetrable apartment complex in Jakarta which is the headquarters of the city's most prominent drug kingpin.  Very quickly the team finds that they are outnumbered, outgunned, and, worst of all trapped in the middle floors, unable to retreat or advance.  One of their numbers has a personal stake in the raid, which seems to fuel him further and provide him the resilience to survive despite the odds.

Director Gareth Evans, as the story goes, after getting married to a woman of Indonesian descent, was pushed by her to direct a documentary on the country's martial art, Pencak Silat.  Somewhat entranced by the fighting style, he went on to make the cult film Merantau after discovering Raid star Iko Uwais.  The Raid is a stylized film, heavy on the blue, yellow and brown tones, creating a grimy atmosphere suitable for a poorly maintained drug fortress fronting as an apartment building.

Evans' spotlight on Silat differs from traditional martial arts films, which tend to glorify its practitioners as superheroes in a certain light.  Here, instead, the combatants are quite readily seen as mortal, blood and bone, prone to fatigue and flaws.  Evans pulls the camera back and gives the expertly orchestrated fights their due, keeping the edits to a minimum and the action in focus.  This isn't a Greengrass Bourne film, where the fighting is masked by quick cuts to exaggerate momentum and intensity, instead the technique is quite on display, left raw, in the open, brutal but impressive.

The film is not without its directorial flourish, in which Evans would jostle the camera slightly during the fight sequences, particularly during the copious firearms exchanges.  The particularly motion-sensitive may feel the effect, others might not even not even notice.

Lockout, unlike The Raid, is a clean-cut, far more traditional b-movie action movie with sci-fi trappings, again owing a generous debt to John Carpenter and his Snake Plissken vehicles, although instead of reaching for the dirty, tawdry, darker look and feel of the early '80's Escape From New York, the film cops quite liberally from the early 90's, glossy, cgi and technology-enabled Escape From L.A., that it's more like Plissken fan-fiction than anything approaching an original concept.

Guy Pierce's Snow subs in for Kurt Russell's Snake as the sarcastic, tough-as-nails mercenary who has connections high and low as eager to help him as to kill him.  When the president's daughter is amongst the civilians trapped aboard an orbital supermax prison, Snow is the only man for the job of infiltrating the escapees and getting the girl... to safety, and without any options to do so.

The sequence of events that follows is rote b-movie material carried forth with pithy, if not entirely clever dialogue.  The film frequently borrows from other genre pics, including a horrendous lifting of the Death Star trench assault sequence which seems not only entirely extraneous but a waste of effects budget that could have been put to better use refining those throughout the rest of the film.

Despite his quite lengthy resume, Pierce hasn't really played the tough guy or conventional action star too often, if at all, yet somehow beat Jason Statham to the part.  While he doesn't exactly wear it comfortably, he seems to have fun with it.  Maggie Grace, Besson's new go-to girl-in-distress, isn't really given a concrete character to work with, changing face and temperament as the script demands.  The leads don't entirely radiate chemistry, and there's little investment from the actors all around, but the end result is passably entertaining, if unmemorable.

Oh, one final connection... the posters, both of the drab, generic variety implying the man-alone-against-great-odds scenario.  Uninspired and not at all embracing their retro leanings.