Welsh born director Gareth Evans and Indonesian martial arts star and choreographer Iko Uwais follow up their 2009 cult hit “Merantau” by notching up the action and violence many, many levels with “The Raid”. A magnificently brutal and breathlessly exciting affair, the film really does pack in everything and more that even the hardest to please genre fan could ever want, overflowing with explosive gunplay and bone crunching fight scenes, not to mention some genuinely jaw dropping stunt work. Riding a tidal wave of hype after driving audiences wild at Toronto and other high profile festivals and with a Hollywood remake apparently on the cards, the film already looks set to go down as one of the best of the year. With its wild trailer causing major shockwaves in the non-cult press, it’s also looking like the genre film most likely to achieve mainstream crossover success, and will hopefully see the careers of Evans and Uwais launched into the stratosphere.
The plot is simple and efficient, with Iko Uwais as Rama, part of a SWAT unit carrying out an assault on a 15 storey apartment block in the Jakarta slums, the hideout of drug kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who hires out the rooms in the building to the city’s worst criminals and killers. The attack doesn’t go as planned, and soon Rama and his fellow officers find themselves trapped, out numbered and out gunned, their numbers rapidly being whittled down. Their mission quickly becomes one of survival, as Rama, who has his own reasons for being there, comes up against Tama’s two top henchmen, brains of the organisation Andi (Doni Alamsyah), and the aptly named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian).
No matter what is written about it, or how many clips are seen, nothing can prepare viewers for the sheer pummelling “The Raid” delivers on the big screen, as this is one of the very few cases of a film not only living up to, but greatly exceeding its hype. Coming across as “Hard Boiled” era John Woo without the melodrama, with more than a hint of early John Carpenter cool, the film is amazingly action packed, and after its expertly handled and tense opening scenes of the SWAT team silently sneaking their way into the building, it really does explode into all out war, with only the briefest (but not unwelcome) respites for the audience to catch its breath.
Consistently revving up the madness throughout, it’s hard to remember the last time an action film had this kind of raw, visceral impact, with the choreography from Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian offering up some truly stunning set pieces. Based around the Indonesian Silat style, the film succeeds where countless others have failed in attaining a berserk zen like balance between guns and martial arts, effortlessly combining and switching between the two, fists and feet being every bit as deadly as bullets. As in the excellent “Merantau”, the acrobatic Uwais proves himself a lightening fast and extremely skilled martial artist, easily one of the most exciting talents working in the industry today. On top of this, he has real screen presence, with an honest and unassuming persona that makes him a very likeable protagonist, the film gaining even more impact through the fact that it never attempts to depict him as any kind of kung fu master or stereotypical badass.
The film also features heavy use of knives and machetes, with some staggeringly fast blade duels and choppings. Unsurprisingly, this means that the film does get incredibly violent, upping the ante considerably over others of its type – knives are not simply stuck into legs, but are dragged all the way down, and fights often end with the loser being shot or stabbed several times in the face. Despite this, and the fact that its body count is pretty much impossible to calculate, the film is never gratuitous or too over the top, and is all more convincing and believable for its hard and gritty edge.
Of course, violence and action on their own do not necessarily make a great film, as has been seen for example with Muay Thai hit “Ong Bak”, which outside of its scenes of Tony Jaa kicking the hell out of people or leaping around was pretty dull and grating. Here, it’s obvious that Evans is a genuinely talented helmer and craftsman, and one who knows the genre and his audience very well. This really gives the film a huge boost, with some creative and imaginative use of lighting, sound and colour all working to give the maze like apartment building a character of its own and making for a moody, gritty atmosphere of constant threat. The script, also by Evans, is similarly effective, and though economic and stripped down, it still has more than enough meat to give it spirit and heart and to ensure that the viewer invests in the film beyond simply waiting to see the next explosion of carnage.
Although all of this may sound dangerously close to gushing, “The Raid” really is worth it, easily ranking not only as the best film of the year so far, but as one of the very best martial arts or action films for quite some time. Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais are clearly at the very top of their game, and the results are nothing less than astounding.
Gareth Evans (director) / Gareth Evans (screenplay)
CAST: Iko Uwais … Rama
Doni Alamsyah … Andi
Ananda George … Ari
Yayan Ruhian … Mad Dog
Ray Sahetapy … Tama
Verdi Solaiman … Budi
Joe Taslim … Jaka