Published on May 19th, 2012 | by Matthew Gammond2
The Raid: Review
Brutality and beauty are two things that go hand-in-hand far more frequently that you imagine. Often, something which is remarkably uncivil can become an art form through the keen eye of a choreographer and the vision of a director. A transformation occurs on-screen and a simple stand-off can come to represent something akin to Swan Lake; I appreciate that that metaphor may be a little askew but the point remains.
And this is where The Raid comes in; it’s a film with a premise so simple that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a mission in a Call of Duty game – an elite team of twenty SWAT officers enters an apartment building in an effort to depose a ruthless criminal that has come to occupy the building, providing a safe haven for low-lives and a fortress within which he masterminds his drug operation.
For a film that lasts nearly two hours, a fantastic amount of time is spent within this grotty apartment block. Director Gareth Evans wastes very little time with character development and the core plot is revealed to us only as the SWAT van approaches the tower.
What little character development we see is centred on our young hero – Rama –played wonderfully by the soon-not-to-be-anonymous Iko Uwais. One of the youngest members of the squad, Rama is shown to be a family man and a master of martial arts, with scenes of him beating the proverbial out of a punch bag punctuating the scenes within which he is comforting his pregnant wife.
It was at this point that I began to realise just what I had let myself in for; the amount of time that the camera focuses on the punch bag as it is being ‘attacked’ is amazing. The director clearly wanted to display as much action as possible in one single shot and this initial bit of elongated violence set the precedent for what would unfold in the next ninety minutes or so.
As with any premise as simple as this, you can see what will unfold before it happens and exactly what you’re thinking now does happen. The raid on the building gets rumbled and everything goes horribly wrong; hands up if you didn’t see that coming.
However, rather than being irritated at this plotline that borders on the cliché, you should be thankful because that means that twenty elite cops are now trapped in a building and being hunted down by a seemingly infinite number of bloodthirsty thugs… and you know what that means, don’t you?
Cue all manner of faecal matter to be thrust into the big whirly thing. Once that SWAT team enters the tower all hell breaks loose and what follows is a deliciously orchestrated symphony of violence and bloodshed the like of which I haven’t seen for many a year.
It is clear from the get-go that so many people in this film have been cast as what I like to call “fodder” – they are there to die and nothing more, which explains why out of the vast number of cast members, only ten are graced with names. The others are merely faces in a uniform or thugs brandishing a machete that only serve one purpose; to rack up the body count. And that’s not a bad thing; often a film of this genre can be severely hindered by its lack of actual on-screen deaths but The Raid suffers no such problem.
The setting functions as a melting pot; all the ingredients are thrown in for a variety of action scenes that, for want of a less clichéd phrase, will have the viewers on the edge of their seats. The close walls and dark corridors provide a perfect place to stage a dramatic and intense gunfight or, better yet, a full blown martial arts showdown.
The building does manage to feel like a prison and at the risk of cracking off a second cliché in as many paragraphs; I believe I am well within my rights to call it a character. Its imposing atmosphere and dank, hopeless feel make it come alive and I found myself willing Rama and his teammates to get the hell out of there.
Speaking of teammates, our hero is joined by Jaka (Joe Taslim), Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) and Budi (Verdi Solaiman) as well as the aforementioned nameless faces. Of course, there are other named characters in the squad but Rama and the three I mentioned are the blessed few that play any sort of important role.
All have their moments but the crowning glory must be handed to Rama. Iko Uwais is a wonderful actor and skilled fighter, with his character getting more on-screen fight time than just about anyone else. Often heavily outnumbered, the way he cuts down wave after wave of thugs is breathtaking, conveying both his skills as a warrior and as a choreographer as it was he and Yayan Ruhian that concocted all of the fight scenes.
Every single one is a festival of fist-pounding, bone-crunching, machete-wielding madness that seemingly has no end or limits. Characters are dispatched just as quickly as they appear in a number of inventive and grizzly ways that, on occasion, left me thinking “how the hell did they do that?!”
Despite the fact that the chief antagonist is Tama (Ray Sahetepy) – the man who runs the building, the villain who turns up and causes chaos more than any other is Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), Tama’s personal bodyguard. A man of supreme fighting ability, with incredible ease he tears down these SWAT troopers, using only his bare hands, something which makes him even more terrifying. His rampant calmness can vanish at the blink of an eye and he transforms into a blurred mass of fists – you will not forget a scene involving him in a two-on-one situation with any great hurry, I promise you that.
However, it is the complexity of some of these brutal fights that betrays a flaw that can be found with so many martial arts-based films. Rather than acting, you can see the characters trying to remember their next move. Their concentration drains all emotion from their faces and some of the up-close moments just look like a rehearsal. Admittedly, it’s tough to be this picky, but in a scene where Rama battles a man on top of a table, their acting talents are replaced by trying to remember which fist will land where. A small niggle, and not one that should put you off but I definitely noticed it on more than one occasion.
Furthermore, the staging also seems a little too obvious. Some of the corridor battles involve people emerging from round a corner or through a door and it is clear that Rama has run to that area of the corridor to await them. Again, it makes it look like a rehearsal but also again, it’s not a killer flaw.
Regardless of this, the film’s action never ceases to amaze and the levels of brutality are taken to incredible highs. You’ll often beg for the camera to take its focus off of someone but you pleas will go unanswered. A character’s full beating and/or death will be shown to you for as long as possible, which goes back to my earlier point about the punch bag. It is this supreme amount of action that makes this film stand out amongst the crowd of action flicks this year. It is relentless, merciless and even during its cunningly placed tense moments the action slows but the viewers’ hearts will still be in their throats.
With camerawork that hides nothing and editing that never leaves anything to the imagination my point about this film being an exceptional mix of brutality and beauty stands firm. OK, so maybe its plot is paper thin and the lack of character development (even for Rama) could be viewed as a negative, but this is not a film that set out to match the levels of narrative structure and depth seen in films like The Shawshank Redemption. Far from it, The Raid wants to strap you to your chair and beat the crap out of you, and in that regard it succeeds in every conceivable way.
Summary: This is certainly one of the finest action movies in recent memory. Your mind will take a pounding on a near-unprecedented scale, though getting to grips with the narrative won't require any mind workout whatsoever. Still, this is action for the sake of action - fight after fight, it'll leave your jaw somewhere south of the floor as you witness hand-to-hand combat on an intensity level that you rarely see these days.