Two years ago, healing Gareth Evans was a name unknown to the western hemisphere, a Welshman living in Indonesia, making low-budget films for a largely domestic audience. Then came The Raid, a stunning breakout hit that garnered critical and popular acclaim. An incredibly simple set-up (a SWAT team storms a high-rise full of disreputable sorts) was the perfect platform for Evans’ kinetic direction: ninety minutes of near-constant peril at the hands of machine-gun and machete wielding maniacs. Masterful martial-arts choreography combined with a copious supply of gore refreshed audiences getting too familiar with Hollywood films cutting back on splatter for that coveted 12A rating and the much larger pool of ticket buyers it allows. While fans of The Raid tended their wounds, Evans and star Iko Uwais wasted no time in filming a sequel. Berandal (Indonesian for ‘thug’) is a hugely ambitious, sprawling crime epic that contrasts starkly with the contained urgency of the original and, needless to say, the 18 rating is very much earned.
We start directly after the first film, with Rama (Uwais) being persuaded by an internal affairs officer to go undercover. He is subsequently sent to prison in order to befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), who controls a large proportion of crime in the city. After his release, Rama goes to work for Bangun’s empire, all the while searching for the evidence that will allow him to return to his family. As the plot significantly thickens, Godfather-esque disputes between organised crime syndicates erupt, fuelled from behind the scenes by the dapper and sinister Bejo (Alex Abbad).
Considering the small scale of Evans’ previous work, this is a massive production, full of action set-pieces, car chases, convoluted plots and stylish dialogue. Overall, it holds together nicely, with believable, if somewhat operatic, characters. The plot gets a little lost in its own cleverness at times, as allegiances change rapidly and new players appear late on. It is also a very separate piece from the original, as this script was written before The Raid and retrofitted to become a sequel. The pacing is also much more sophisticated, with the dramatic plot balancing the violent action. Those who enjoyed the carnage of the original will have their fill, but there is a slow building momentum to Berandal that culminates in a truly insane final act.
Evans’ casting is superb, with the actors (many of whom have little previous experience) rising to the challenge marvellously. Uwais is vulnerable and morally compromised as Rama delves deeper into the criminal world, while Putra is a revelation as the handsome and arrogant heir to a dangerous throne. The acting for the smaller parts is excellent as well: in particular the characters known as Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man ooze a terrifying, confident charisma as they set about with their weapons of choice.
The action in Berandal is utterly mind-blowing. It is impossible to describe the sheer brutality and invention to the choreography and the scale of the mayhem. Among the many stand-out moments are a muddy, bloody prison riot, a shoot-out in a porn studio, Hammer Girl on a train, and the ludicrous, eye-watering kitchen fight between Rama and a character known only as The Assassin. What sets this apart from much of the action in Hollywood films of today is Evans’ shooting and editing style. Accustomed to swift cuts to distract from the stuntmen and CGI, it is astonishing to witness the long takes that feature in his fight scenes. Of particular note is an incredible tracking shot that moves around the aforementioned riot, taking in every punch, kick and stab while still feeling completely frantic and unrehearsed.
Goodness knows how Hollywood will cope if Evans ever makes the transition to Western cinema. Possibly the best action director working today, his raw talent has the potential to be an absolute tour-de-force. Messy in places, with a bit too much plot for its own good, The Raid 2: Berandal is still the most ridiculously entertaining action film since, well, The Raid (just don’t take your mum!).