Review: The Raid (2011)

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Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Doni Alamsyah
Director: Gareth Evans
Country: Indonesia | USA
Genre: Action | Crime | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: The following review of The Raid is a part of a collection of reviews by Ronan Doyle during his attendance of the 10th Annual Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Of the ten audiences I was a member of during my weekend at JDIFF, none was even remotely close to the level of interaction with their respective film than that of The Raid. In fact, never before in my life have I seen a room more brought to life than in the extraordinary 100 minutes for which this remarkable new movie ran. Thrice in the course of the film the crowd burst into spontaneous applause at the incessant onslaught of ingeniously choreographed martial arts action unfolding onscreen; twice more as the credits rolled and the writer/director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais took to the stage. It’s unsurprising, given this incredible reaction, that the film received the festival’s Audience Award, but it also walked off with the JDIFF Best Film Award as voted for by the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle—the first time since the festival’s inception that the top awards have gone to a single recipient. It’s indicative of the quality of the film that it’s been heralded by critics and audiences alike; this is one of the most energising films to emerge in years, and the kind of exemplary masterwork that can redefine a genre.

It’s indicative of the quality of the film that it’s been heralded by critics and audiences alike; this is one of the most energising films to emerge in years, and the kind of exemplary masterwork that can redefine a genre

The setup is simple: for several years a powerful drug lord has occupied an abandoned apartment building in the slums of Jakarta, giving safe haven to a plethora of dangerous criminals. Now, an elite task force is going to take it back. Spotted before they can reach their target with the intended subtlety, the team is trapped halfway up the tower, sandwiched in the middle of a veritable army of the most amorally violent men and women imaginable. It’s the ultimate rock and hard place scenario, leaving the team to desperately fight their way out of the building by whatever means they can.

Action films have typically been criticised for their lack of compelling narratives, regularly offering half-baked and wholly clichéd stories of captured family members or government corruption that facilitates a string of barely linked set-pieces for the hero to navigate in a fashion as loud and explosive as possible. It is rarely so much the lack of a narrative that is problematic, but rather the presence of a substandard one. The Raid understands this—and the expectations of an action audience—and tosses aside the kind of poorly thought out, one-liner crammed storyline many action films appear to feel obliged to include. At the film’s beginning we see one of the team, Rama, with his pregnant wife for a short moment before he departs for his mission. Aside from a brief mention almost an hour later, this is the only time the character appears in the film whatsoever. Rather than constantly reminding us of her existence or having his character mention her throughout, Evans leaves this as our sole indication of Rama’s motivations: he wants to get home; he needs to get home. Some might view it as a lack of depth of characterisation, but it’s a calculated minimalist setup that allows the character to be explored through the action—in the increasing desperation his fighting style takes on—and avoids the cloying saccharinity of so many modern action films that suffocate us with ill-advised scenes of exposition.

…it’s a calculated minimalist setup that allows the character to be explored through the action—in the increasing desperation his fighting style takes on—and avoids the cloying saccharinity of so many modern action films…

Speaking after the film, Evans remarked that the criticisms levelled against his and Uwais’ previous film Merantau and its excessive focus on building a narrative before turning to action motivated him to develop a story that would facilitate an almost-immediate immersion in the silat branch of martial art practiced by Uwais and his co-stars. The Raid is just about the most literal delivery on such a promise as would be possible to make, getting down to business in its earliest moments and never pausing for breath until the credits roll. It’s a remarkable show of choreographic virtuosity, each of the dozens of fight scenes clearly rehearsed to perfection. Evans somehow manages to manoeuvre his camera gracefully within the crowded confines of this multi-storey battlefield, his aesthetic thankfully opting for a stable view rather than the shaky-cam look favoured by the likes of Paul Greengrass. The action is constantly clear, giving us full view at all times of who is hitting whom with what, often for multiple fights simultaneously. It’s a fantastic achievement that lends the film a richness of texture where the backgrounds are as alive with eye-grabbing detail as the foregrounds. There’s a seamlessness to the editing (also by Evans) that never misses a punch as characters fall through floors, clamber up ceilings, plough through walls, and dive out windows. It’s a testament to the hard work of all involved that everything ends up looking so easy, the scenes flowing into one another with a natural fluidity and progression that ensures the incessant action never grows wearying. The combination of refined martial arts and a brawling street fight style gives a fantastic interplay between a dancelike majesty to the action and a brutal jaggedness where everything—and I do mean everything—is a weapon.

The kind of action film that will appeal even to those wholly unconcerned with the genre, The Raid is an exceptional work that knows what it wants to be and doesn’t let anything stand in its way. Using its single setting in a refreshing variety of inspired ways, this is one of the most fantastically crafted and unrelentingly exciting martial arts movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Eschewing perfunctory efforts at lacklustre characterisation, it commits itself to delivering the most entertaining viewing experience possible, and deliver it does. Utilising bowie knives and machetes with a skill to put John Rambo and Jason Voorhees to shame, and boasting the most exhilarating and astoundingly assembled corridor sequence since Oldboy, The Raid is a genre-redefining masterwork that needs to be seen to be believed.

[notification type=”star”]80/100 ~ GREAT. Eschewing perfunctory efforts at lacklustre characterisation, The Raid commits itself to delivering the most entertaining viewing experience possible, and deliver it does.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.