The Raid review

Sometimes you’ll come across an action film with a stunt that’s so unbelievable that it causes you to gasp in amazement. The Raid will cause the same reaction, except it won’t just happen once, but on numerous occasions throughout the film.

The buzz on The Raid started to build after it played the Toronto Film Festival back in September 2011. For a small film that has come out of Indonesia, with a no holds barred approach to action, it turns out to be surprisingly good at what it does, having already reached critical and public acclaim. The hype is justified and if it gets the rollout it so truly deserves in the UK, then there’s every chance the blockbusters will be running scared, for The Raid is this summer’s hot ticket.

Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie, making up a SWAT team of 20 newly assigned young cops led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim). Sent to a 15-storey apartment building that’s a safe haven for criminals, their mission is to take down Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the drug lord at the top floor. But after he is alerted to their presence, the cops are locked in. To make matters worse, Tama offers his residents the incentive to live in the building rent-free should they take out a police officer. We find that quite a number of criminals are willing to take up the offer (times are tough, you know). Outnumbered and with no backup, the only thing left for Rama is to fight his way to the top.

Written, directed and edited by Welshman Gareth Evans, he claims to have been inspired by the Chow Yun Fat film Peace Hotel, incorporating elements from the likes of Assault on Precinct 13, Die Hard and Hard Boiled. The plot is merely a thin clothesline on which to peg an assortment of outrageous action sequences; sequences where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Here’s a film that’ll likely end up being prescribed by doctors as a replacement for epinephrine.

Evoking memories of when Ong-Bak was released (has it really been nearly a decade?), which promoted how there were ‘no stunt doubles’ and ‘no CGI’, The Raid similarly goes for bone-crunching realism. This is gritty, brutal and relentless, as if they’ve simply gone out and actually done it for real. The film credits 14 medics and paramedics and during the production there was always an ambulance on standby! There are special effects, but it’s mainly the overuse of CG blood that’ll get your attention. Once the ammo runs out, the martial art Silat comes into play, which will be new for the majority of audiences.

Having recently viewed Safe, the ready salted of action movies with the now often imitated shakey camera style, seeing The Raid just days later suddenly makes the Jason Statham flick look more like a child’s amateur home movie by comparison. Evans wants you to see everything and his cinematographer, Matt Flannery, makes sure of that. The camera is mostly handheld and follows the point of impact, keeping you immersed in the action in confined spaces.

The location is a totally uninspiring run down apartment building. The choreography by the film’s lead Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (who plays one of Tama’s right hand men, Mad Dog) feels fresh, finding ways to incorporate the surroundings of what is essentially a drab environment. Tables, glass, knives, chairs and even walls are all used to devastating effect. Also, although these guys are not trained actors, they at least make an effort during the film’s quieter moments to try and inject some emotion. “Squeezing a trigger is like ordering a takeout,” says Mad Dog, the only character who appears to show a smidgen of respect to his victims before taking them out. Ray Sahetapy as drug lord Tama proves to be cold and frighteningly uncompromising.

With Tama having enlisted the help of anyone in the building that wishes to join in, Rama is in a terrifying kill or be killed scenario and has to dispose of his opponents as quickly as possible in order to survive. Plus, you just never know when a door will open to reveal another opponent. Because of this the fights have a sense of urgency to them; they’re fast, intense and for the audience, it can be just as painful to watch as it is for the ‘actors’ taking part, who are practically killing themselves for your enjoyment. A sequence involving Rama protecting an injured cop while fighting with a nightstick and a knife is a standout example. The new score by Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese heightens the action as well as the tension (the track Drug Lab is brilliant).

I will note that during my screening, there were a mixture of gasps and laughs due to the scenes of extreme violence. For one person it was too much and they felt the need to walk out early on after a character gets shot in the eye. There are also a few instances of characters being stabbed by sharp objects, but it’s the twisting and slicing that’ll have you squirming in your seat.

The video game like structure to the plot and action is both a hindrance and a blessing to the film. With the focus mainly on Rama, it’s difficult to really care for anyone else. There’s also little depth to the archetypal characters. It’s largely because the events take place over such a short time frame, so the audience is given only a basic amount of information before being thrust into the action. Short breaks fill in a few details and there are some expected twists, but the film doesn’t want to burden us with background history or story. There’s no need. Instead the focus is on exciting the audience. As the team ascends floor-by-floor, lives are lost and the stakes are raised. And of course, there is the end of level boss.

A US remake is in the works, headed by Sony’s Screen Gems, which means they’ll probably get a big name star, avoid using Silat, and maybe release it as a PG-13. Before that, Evans already has a sequel planned – Berandal – the film he originally wanted to make with Iko before it proved too costly (he intends to film Iko fighting people inside a moving car).

Evans relies on the talent of the skilled marital artists and it is the realistic depictions of hand-to-hand combat that propels The Raid as 100 minutes of pure adrenaline. It may lack the emotional core, but it’s certainly a master class in how to make an action film, one that doesn’t just raise the bar, but smacks the competition with it.

The Raid opens across the UK on May 18th.

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