Headshot is not The Raid.

There is, of course, no reason that Headshot should have been The Raid, but it still comes across as just a little bit disappointing. The five films preceding this in the career of martial artist Iko Uwais have come in two categories: starring roles for director Gareth Evans (2009's Merantau, 2011's The Raid, 2014's The Raid 2: Berandal) made in Indonesia, and small roles in American productions that give him far too little to do (2013's Man of Tai Chi, 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens - the latter a particularly obnoxious example, as it distinctly promises an Uwais-led action setpiece right up until the instant that one doesn't materialise). Headshot offers Uwais a starring role; Headshot is an Indonesian film. It seemed at least reasonable to hope that the kaleidoscopic fight choreography Uwais brought to those films would be present here, in the first project officially choreographed by Uwais Team, his new company.

And by all means, the fight choreography in Headshot is extremely good. It has a thudding, brutal realism to it, nowhere near the balletic gore poetry of Uwais's earlier work. Headshot is concerned above all things with the human body's capacity to be bent and broken, pierced and rent, starting with the basic scenario, and the painful violence of the action is certainly the most effective tool it has in diving into this subject. While the action scenes, particularly the one-on-one fights, are undeniably rousing, with fluid, lightning-fast movement to quicken the pulse and shorten the breath, they're not beautiful: they focus on the heavy impact of limbs, and the suddenness with which a well-placed piece of metal (be it a bullet or a knife) can transform a human being into a failing sack of meat and chemicals. It's exhilarating, but not exactly exciting, a balance that isn't often struck as well as it is here.

The film is about an amnesiac hitman, which obviously encourages comparison to The Bourne Identity, though the central characters are substantially different. The central figure of Headshot - the recipient of the titular attack, which triggered his amnesia -   nicknamed Ishmael by the Moby Dick-loving doctor, Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who helps him back to life, isn't a Bourne-style superman, able to commit acts of movie violence that even he can't predict. In fact, he's someone who wants very much not to do those things, and at least initially takes more hits than he offers when, inevitably, his old life comes along to drag him back in. For as it turns out, before he was shot, Ishmael was a favored underling of Mr. Lee (Sunny Pang), a crimelord who treats his top killers as something like a perverse foster family, and Lee wants the younger man back, or wants him dead, and that's pretty much the entire plot of the two-hour movie.

There's a purity and simplicity to the scenario, which feels stripped back to the level of American and Hong Kong action pictures in the '80s, and has roughly the same level of quasi-humanist thematic resonance. Ishmael is the most soulful of Uwais's characters so far (not a major achievement), a pensive figure tormented by the growing awareness that he was a real bad fucker before the accident that stole away his old personality, and an obvious concern that there's something innate within him that he'll be driven back to that life despite Ailin's encouragement and love. This sits in somewhat uneasy contrast to the film's narrative arc, which all but requires us to root for Ishmael to finally shake off the nerves and emerge as the ass-kicker we all know he can be, which happens about halfway through.

Notwithstanding the muddiness of the themes, the second hour of Headshot is a hell of a lot more interesting to watch than the first. Directors Timo Tjahjanto (who wrote the film's screenplay) and Kimo Stamboel - who've made a couple of well-regarded films over the past few years as "the Mo Brothers", neither of which I've seen - are going for a draining, slow burn, letting the violence of the film wear on us much as it wears on Ishamel. In practice, that doesn't really get to happen. Headshot is, after all, a movie. And if it really wanted to be a deep, probing character study it would need - I hate to say it - a better actor than Uwais to anchor its moral universe. Instead, the first hour mostly just drags, punctuated by action sequences that aren't terribly interesting because Uwais is visibly holding himself back. The big shift happens during a particularly nasty sequence on a bus, where the film racks up a huge civilian body count, which it's not at all afraid to lay out before us with repulsive gravity. It's neither a subtle moment nor a tasteful one, but it does the job of giving the film a kick of apocalyptic energy right when it needs something to give it the momentum to get the rest of the film handled.

And the rest of the film, to be sure, is great action. The last hour of the film is dominated by three individual fight scenes, each in a different location, fight with a different style, and shot using a different set of aesthetic tricks; the best of them pits Ishamel against Rika (Julie Estelle) in a knife fight on a beach, with splashes of water regularly interrupting the frame, and blood filtering into the foam and fading into thin layer of pink. The filmmakers are, in general, a little bit too good at swallowing up the fight choreography beneath jerky camera movements and fast cutting, but the underlying action, and the clarity of Yunus Pasolang's images, are much too good for that to significantly impact the movie.

Still, for as strong as the last hour is, Headshot taken as a whole simply isn't that great - very good, definitely, but not great. And we're in a strong enough era for action that it takes great to stand out from the crowd. I admire the filmmakers' attempt to do something a bit deeper and more probing with its characters, but there's simply not enough meat on the movie's bones to justify the parts that aren't action, and there's not that much action for it not to feel like it's wasting unnecessary time.