With a rather straightforward title, 13 Bom di Jakarta (international title: 13 Bombs) promises action to its audience—on a grand scale. Touted as the biggest local action movie of the year in most of its promotional materials, the boastful nature of the promotion feels symbolic to the movie itself; it tells instead of shows.
The movie started off strong, with an action sequence where the antagonists managed to blow up a cash delivery vehicle before demanding 100 Bitcoins. Led by the enigmatic Arok (Rio Dewanto), the terrorist group preaches of equality and fairness. The group is driven by the desire to destroy and rebuild the corrupt economic system, rife with structural poverty. The hostage is all of Jakarta, since the group claimed that they have planted 13 bombs all over the city.
The demand leads to the involvement of Oscar (Chicco Kurniawan) and William (Ardhito Pramono), fictionalized versions of the founders of Indodax, a cryptocurrency trading company. The terrorists’ specific request to transfer the Bitcoins through Indodax raised suspicions from the bureau handling the case, the Indonesian Counter Terrorist Agency (ICTA). There’s the strict leader General Damaskus (Rukman Rosadi), the sharp-witted Karin (Putri Ayudya), and the hotheaded Emil (Ganindra Bimo)—all typical roles for an action flick. From then on, the game of cat and mouse between the agency and the terrorists begins, with Oscar and William stuck in the middle.
The narrative moves fast with urgency—the atmosphere is tense and the story moves with intention. Audiences are led to keep up with the pace, wondering about the motives of the characters and how the plot will progress amid intense action sequences. The use of practical effects, as opposed to CGI, lend the movie more weight. This strong buildup, unfortunately, loses its focus as the story progresses.
As mentioned in the beginning of this piece, 13 Bom di Jakarta insists on telling rather than showing. The investigation process is only shown as fragments, upon which characters act as mouthpieces, describing what’s happening to the audience. The background for many of these scenes? Numerous computer monitors with cryptics graphs and diagrams.
Mistakes from the conflicting parties happen one after another. Sure, they move the plot, but one is left to wonder if these so-called elite agents and well-organized terrorists are really competent people at all.
At times, the movie feels more akin to a long commercial for Indodax instead of a coherent narrative. Look closer at the letter “B” on the movie’s logotype and you’ll easily notice that it’s the symbol for Bitcoin. Throughout its runtime, the words cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, or Indodax are mentioned perhaps as frequently as the bomb threats—further diluting its focus.
What’s most glaring about 13 Bom di Jakarta is how heavy-handed everything is. Audiences are left with no room to connect the plot points, as everything is spelled out and spoon-fed. The clunky dialogues give the movie no favors in doing so as well.
The best antagonists are those who make enough sense that we can empathize with their cause, and Arok could have easily been one. As the character with the most fleshed-out backstory, Arok’s cause to rebuild the economic system to be more equal is just—if a bit unoriginal. He recruited “revolutionaries” with similar backgrounds, who follow him with reverence and admiration. What’s unfortunate is that 13 Bom di Jakarta falls into the trap of making his point too relatable, and to remedy that they treated him with the cliche of obsessive “the-ends-justify-the-means” persona, with a willingness to sacrifice everything that stands in his way.
Nearing the end, a twist that’s been teased but never foreshadowed happened. Of course, it is of no consequence. After a barrage of cliches, everything happens as you might predict. The status quo is maintained and nothing really changed, save for a bunch of dead people.
Watching movies—especially action movies—certainly requires a suspension of disbelief. However, 13 Bom di Jakarta demands too much of it. The special forces all wear full tactical gear to combat the terrorists, but of course the key characters don’t wear helmets. Civilians aren’t supposed to get involved in the armed combat between the agency and the terrorists, but of course they do. And if the civilian characters which happened to be based on real people ended up saving the day? Yeah, sure, why not.
Parts of 13 Bom di Jakarta genuinely shine, mostly through the combination of compelling performances, practical actions, or overall amazing shots. Granted, some scenes feel like they’re only there because they look cool, but they do look cool. Rio Dewanto’s Arok is fearsomely charismatic, and Lutesha—playing William’s fiance Agnes—steals every scene she’s in. There’s also the terrorist with a tortured conscience, Waluyo, played brilliantly by Muhammad Khan. On parts when the movie delivers, one can’t help but wonder, why isn’t the movie more focused on the character-driven moments or pure adrenaline actions, as opposed to disjointed narratives that rely on twists and turns. As a bombastic project with grand ambitions, 13 Bom di Jakarta still manages to excite, but its potential could’ve been delivered better had it not conflated itself with spectacles.