Directed by the Welsh-born Gareth Evans, The Raid is an elegantly simple, pared-down, back-to-basics action movie. And it’s awesome. A vicious showcase of shootouts and severe bodily trauma from Indonesia, The Raid is a pure adrenaline rush destined to become a manly action classic with its insane battles and jaw-dropping moments of violence. The movie has received a lot of hype and attention since hitting film festivals in 2011, and it’s easy to see why – it’s one of the most insane and inventive action flicks in years, with its straightforward storyline providing an effective excuse for an ultraviolent joyride the likes of which we rarely see.
The plot is simple, like an arcade fighting game: a SWAT team led by Lieutenant Wahyu (Gruno) set out to infiltrate the drug den of criminal kingdom Tama (Sahetapy). Unfortunately, Tama lives in a massive apartment complex inhabited by drug takers, thugs, scumbags and lowlifes, who will all die in Tama’s name. The team hope to remain concealed throughout the mission, but lookouts quickly alert their boss, who orders the dangerous residents to eliminate the officers. This triggers wave upon wave of armed thugs, with the law enforcement officials finding themselves in for the fight of their lives. Amid the officers is Rama (Uwais), a dutiful husband to a pregnant wife who just wants to do his duty and escape the building alive. Fortunately, Rama is skilled in the field of ass-kickery.
Evans, who also wrote the script, avoids bogging the film down in unnecessary details. The action is interspersed with well-judged scenes of character interaction, with Evans at no point clinging onto moments of character development or drama for too long. WhenThe Raid gets down to business, it blossoms with its displays of competent stuntwork, stunning choreography, and awesome pyrotechnics. The bold fights are so raw, brutal and adrenaline-pumping, in fact, that one can’t help but wonder how the fuck the actors pulled it off. Uwais is a true force of nature; the crazy Indonesian obliterates his way through a rogue’s gallery of opponents, and Evans permits us to watch the chaos unfold in unflinching full shots highlighting the choreography and the physical skills of everyone involved. Some of these guys must have landed in hospital during filming! The Raid is excessively violent as well, with bloody bullet-holes and graphic knife wounds. Evans doesn’t linger on the gore or bloodshed, though, instead keeping the pace consistently frenetic. For action fans, The Raid is a freaking godsend. If you’re wondering what people mean when they say that Hollywood has forgotten how to produce action movies, compare 2012’s Battleship or Total Recall with The Raid. The difference in quality is day and night.
From top to bottom, the picture’s technical specs are top-flight. Evans and cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono exhibit gorgeous panache in their framing and movements. Miraculously, the cameras follow the action without reducing each set-piece to an indecipherable blur of shaky-cam. Though framing is admittedly somewhat on the shaky side, it’s never too distracting. On top of this, the apartment block itself is a superb supporting player. It looks like a dangerous, dank environment, making it ideal for the action and premise. Furthermore, The Raid features a strong ensemble of actors. As Rama, Uwais is sublime – he’s a breathtaking fighter and a capable thespian. Joe Taslim is equally good as Jaka, one of Rama’s fellow officers. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that Taslim is pretty underused – he has great charisma and acting chops, and should have been allotted a bigger role. As Tama, Ray Sahetapy is colourful and sadistic, while Yayan Ruhian makes a huge impression as a crazy fighter known as Mad Dog.
In spite of its strengths, The Raid is not perfect. By the end, the picture does admittedly get a bit exhausting and repetitive. There are a few hair-brained script flaws, too. For instance, why is it that, after the first half, the building’s residents suddenly become averse to using firearms? They round up tonnes of assault rifles from deceased officers, yet wander around using machetes and fists for some reason. (Only the character Mad Dog has a legitimate excuse since he prefers the exhilaration of fighting over guns.) Also, it seems really difficult to hurt people during a number of the brawls. People get the shit knocked out of them, yet still stand and continue fighting as if they aren’t injured? A character towards the end is even beaten and stabbed within an inch of his life, yet has the energy and tolerance to engage in a massive brawl. Huh? Oh well, you probably won’t end up minding too much about this stuff anyway, since The Raid is such an enjoyable experience for most of its runtime.
Action fans owe it to themselves to check out The Raid, as they will undoubtedly delight in the violent carnage. But the film is not for every taste; those who aren’t fond of relentless action will probably be better off watching something softer. For the rest of us, the film is a glorious home run. Sure, it’s not quite as skilful as something like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and it lacks the chutzpah to truly catapult it to being a masterful survival action-thriller, but it’s hard to be unsatisfied with the film in its current form.