Timo Tjahjanto alongside Kimo Stamboel ('The Mo Brothers') have been making visceral Indonesian action flicks for years now. Their underrated gem from 2016, Headshot, was often described as a second-rate version of The Raid, yet aside from the obvious connections of blood-splattered violence, intense martial arts and a few shared cast members, both have shown a skill for action filmmaking that shouldn’t be downplayed. In The Night Comes for Us, Tjahjanto goes it alone, taking on singular writing and directing duties, and is once again joined by alumni from The Raid series. But if this film is anything to go by, even one half of the Mo Brothers is a force to be reckoned with.
Much like his previous film with Iko Uwais, this movie has a simple premise, only with the talented Uwais taking on a far different role, leaving Joe Taslim to take centre stage. Taslim’s Ito - so named as a nod to Lone Wolf and Cub's (1970) Ittō - is working as one of the South East Asian Triad’s infamous enforcers ‘The Six Seas’ but after one massacre too many, he turns on his own comrades to spare the life of one innocent girl, Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez). He returns to Jakarta to find his old gang and escape the vast reach of his former employers, battling to keep himself and Reina alive.
Ito is a skilled fighter, to be sure, but he is not as untouchable as protagonists in similar films have been in the past. Instead, he is frequently outmatched, with only his desperation to cleanse his past sins keeping him going. However, it’s when we start to learn more about his humble origins with his original gang that the film becomes more thrilling.
This is, of course, where the action comes in. The captivating fight sequences (choreographed by Uwais) are elevated to an intense gut-wrenching display as Tjahjanto finds new ways to make you wince. Just like Headshot, this isn’t a film that looks away from the immediate impact of violence, nor its brutal consequences. We are put through the ringer as far as the violence is concerned, but it’s the creativity on display that keeps these scenes from going stale. A variety of different environments and characters keeps the movie feeling fresh, with the film frequently cutting away from the action to give the audience a breather – an unconventional structure that keeps you invested in the intersecting storylines.
One of the key principles behind the best action is that movement and activity should come from character (few are singing the praises of The Night Comes for Us' character development) and it does have several strong performances fleshed out through small details. Whether it’s Zack Lee’s memorable turn as invincible Bobby or Uwais’ smartly-dressed and resentful antagonist Arian, you know these characters enough to care. Julie Estelle, who has previously stolen the show in The Raid 2 and Headshot, is the clear highlight once again. The fight scenes The Operator (Estelle) is given are outstanding, to be sure, but it’s her transfixing screen presence that takes it to the next level.
Left behind is the instigating factor, Reina. The 10-year-old Bermudez does well in her role, but we aren’t given nearly enough time for any believable connection to be forged between the character and Ito. Instead, the child becomes a plot device and object through which Ito seeks redemption from a life of bloodshed. The world around him is deep in the moral shades of grey, but unlike many other crime dramas that claim the same, Tjahjanto doesn’t insist we pity these characters. Instead, he provides insight into the path a grim, violent world has set them on. Unfortunately, in the chaos that ensues, Taslim’s lead lacks the development to follow through, stopping the film from never quite landing the emotional punches it needs to.