Orson Welles said of friendship that, through it, we get to create the illusion that we are not alone. He said of women that through them men become civilized. I wonder what he would have thought of The Night Comes For Us, a film that illustrates friendship (both its value and fragility) through a harsh, deconstructive lens, and presents a young girl as the catalyst for its protagonist’s quest to civilize himself, that is, to regain his civility after a career of criminality and murder.
Ito, played by Joe Taslim, is the star of the picture, a gangland veteran from the streets of Jakarta who progressed from here to become an enforcer for the East Asian Triad. Ito, at the film’s opening, has experienced a sudden change of heart -or re-evaluation of his life- when met by the pleading eyes of a young girl (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez) who just witnessed the massacre of everything that she knows, including her parents, at the gun-toting hands of Ito and his men.
“Maybe”, Ito muses in a later scene, when recalling the event, “..Maybe I can change my fate.” He betrays the Triad in this moment, choosing to save the girl instead of adding her to the village’s pile of bodies, and embarks from there on a mission to redeem himself by means of bringing her, Reina, to safety.
On the other end of the spectrum of violence is Arian, played by Iko Uwais, also a former member of the same gang as Ito and now a member of the Triad himself. He is a club owner in Macau, and at the point of his introduction is given a sympathetic bend as we see him brutally take apart a few guests at his establishment for beating up one of his female employees.
Arian is sympathetic, to be sure, but is the designated villain of the piece. He is sent, along with many other skilled operatives, by Triad leadership to eliminate Ito and Reina for the insurrection. While I describe Arian as the villain, (or, better, a villain), it bears mention that there are no heroes in this film. Nearly every character is either a member of the Triad or part of some other gang decidedly lower in the hierarchy of criminal culture. Indeed, there is blood on everyone’s hands, save for Reina, and we identify the “good” characters only in contrast to those with no interest in trying, however futile, to clean up. Hopeful is good in this picture, naive is good, swimming up stream is good; corrigible = brave.
In a way the film reminds me of Children Of Men. Ito is this movie’s Theo Faron, a lawless man fighting against all odds and with them a swarm of other lawless men (and women) to preserve the life of a child. Reina, given little to say, instantly represents both Ito’s own lost innocence and the damning truth that, no matter what, he will never be able to wash that blood off his hands.
This being another thing the film has in common with Children of Men, calling to mind a moment in that film when, alone, Faron, who, up until that point, is portrayed by Clive Owen as a disinterested bureaucrat, cries to himself about what has come of him, the crushing weight of one’s own mortality as implied by every fleeting memory, and, despite that, comes alive in the purpose he finds in the ashes.
There is a scene in The Night Comes For Us when Ito is talking with Reina. In the scene, he asked her to relay the last words of a fallen comrade who died protecting her in his absence. “No time for regrets”, she tells him, as we are shown the last moments of the friend’s martyred departure. It solidifies the film as the neo-noir of its official description, complete with a few-drags-from-a-bent-cigarette moment before driving, literally, into a volley of bullets. There is poetry, beauty, tragedy, drama, pathos; fine strokes of an artist’s brush amid savage displays of wince-worthy violence and mayhem.
That line, “No time for regrets”, is repeated later, and serves, in a sense, as a defining theme of the story proper. Ito’s own mission, again a quest for redemption, dramatizes the sentiment in a fast pace domino tumble of consequences that slows down, if only for a moment, just to fill in the Why for so much death and bloodshed.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The Night Comes For Us has an interesting pedigree. By Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto, the idea was first captured as a screenplay before being adapted into a graphic novel and then finally turned into a movie. The action is as frenetic as the camera angels that capture it all, in a good way, and the camera itself seems infused with emotion and intent -indeed, is a character itself during the fights. See it for the fights alone and the crisp choreography. See it if you’re an action and martial arts fan.
But consider it a warning, this film is not for the meek in either mind or eye. Submitted for your approval: imagine the final knife fight of Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2, in which you find yourself being wowed by the fighters’ movements while at the same time wanting to turn away from the cuts their knives are making. That’s pretty much every fight in this movie. Tjahjanto has collaborated with Evans before and it shows, to the viewer’s benefit.
What can be said about the fight sequences is fleeced without preamble. Much controversy has surrounded the recent decision to exclude some of the award distributions from the broadcast of this year’s Oscars, to streamline the event and maintain viewer interest.
That, anyway, is the official reason given. But not enough of the understandable and valid outrage surrounding this has been reserved for the fact that there is still no award category for stunt work at all. A film like this one, as well as many other 2018 releases, makes the case in the stunt community’s favor that there should absolutely be an inclusion of an award category honoring their work, commitment, and risk (some stunt actors lose limbs or even die on set for the purpose of entertaining us!).
And those films would not be what they are if it weren’t for these brave men and women (at last, the real heroes here!) signing on to do what they do. In each fight scene of The Night Comes For Us, the performers, Uwais, Taslima, Julie Estelle, Sunny Pang, Zack Lee, Shareefa Danish, they unfold the personality of their characters in brutal though opulent physical expression. The hurt is heavy, like the heart, and every kick, punch, slice, elbow and knee, they tell a story of their own.