When was the last time you actually held your breath during an action movie, or gasped, or clung to your armrest in horror? When was the last time you really winced at every gunshot wound or punch to the face that’s unfolded on the screen? Short, sharp and incredibly brutal, The Raid may be the best action movie to grace the big screen in years – in fact, director Gareth Evans’ movie attacks the genre with all the impact of a sledgehammer blow.
First, the plot. A group of elite cops launch a dawn raid on a multi-storey tennament building that serves as the lair for an evil drug lord, but what is intended to be a swift, stealthy mission soon goes wildly out of control. Noisy gunfights give way to a hand-to-hand war in a combined space, as the cops are assaulted by the drug lord’s henchmen and the building’s numerous residents, all of whom are armed to the teeth.
As far as the story goes, that’s it. There are a few twists along the way, but The Raid is an action film through-and-through – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. If you can imagine a film that mixes the pace and thrills of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, the grace of Ong Bak, the harshness of Kill List, and the sometimes nail-biting tension of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, you’ll have a vague idea of what to expect. There’s a very good reason why The Raid fared so well at FrightFest Glasgow – its intensity is sometimes shocking.
The Raid is unusual, too, because it introduces to the screen a rather different martial art. Just as Ong Bak’s Tony Jaa popularised Muay Thai in his movies, so The Raid’s star Iko Uwais showcases the destructive possibilities of the indonesian art of Silat. The results, on the strength of Uwais’ prowess here, it’s a potentially devastating artform.
What’s great about The Raid is the way Evans allows the action to evolve (or more accurately, devolve); it begins with a series of brisk shoot-outs of the more American persuasion, but gradually shifts into a bone-crunching martial arts flick as the bullets run out and knuckles are bared. It’s such a simple, effective way of keeping the action varied and fresh that it’s a wonder why nobody’s thought of doing so before. And if you thought that, say, Sly Stallone’s 2008 Rambo was violent, wait until you see the extreme display of bloodletting here – it is, at times, extraordinary.
Really, you needn’t know much more about The Raid than the things outlined above, but it’s also worth watching for some superbly gritty cinematography from Matt Flannery, which ensures that, even as the violence spirals off into the baroque, the film’s always grounded in a certain amount of grungy reality.
It could be said that the second half of The Raid doesn’t quite match the creativity of the first, and that some of the tension its makers have built up seeps away a little in the final reel or two, but these are only minor complaints. If you’re after a crowd-pleasing, gratifyingly intense action movie, then you must go and see The Raid. I’ve never heard a cinema audience clap as often or enthusiastically as the one I sat with for this film – or groan with such audible dread when one character unsheaths a machete.
Hollywood’s already planning a remake, which will probably be starrier, cost approximately five times as much to make, and prove to be about ten times less entertaining.
The Raid proves that a good director doesn’t need a huge special effects budget or big-name actors, just a few good fighters and a locked room. That’s probably a good metaphor for the film as a whole: The Raid’s power is such that, at times, it really feels as though there’s a brutal fight occurring right in front of you – and believe it or not, that’s a glowing recommendation.