Over the past few weeks, Den Of Geek writers have been voting for the films of the year. It’s a democratic vote, which inevitably means that things end up in a slightly funny order that not one individual writer is likely to fully agree with. Nevertheless, it’s a fine list. Here’s entry number 10…
We can watch movies on our little phone screens while in the loo. We can watch movies on our laptops while trundling along on a train journey. There are so many different ways to enjoy entertainment these days, it’s easy to forget that movies are at their best when watched on a big screen in a darkened room – preferably with a large, enthusiastic audience.
Perhaps more than any film we’ve seen in 2012, The Raid is the ultimate audience participation movie. Cheers, laughter and appreciative applause are one thing – and something we particularly enjoyed during screenings of, say, The Avengers or Skyfall – but the sheer number of winces, groans, cries of horror and fractious muttering which followed each violent encounter in The Raid was, in our experience, highly unusual.
On paper, The Raid‘s plot is flimsy stuff: a 20-strong team of elite cops – among them humble father-to-be Rama (Iko Uwais) – pile into a Jakarta tower block to take out wicked crime boss, Tama (Ray Sahetapy). What begins as a sneak attack soon descends into a claustrophobic fire-fight, and as the bullets run low and bodies begin to pile up, Rama and a handful of survivors find themselves surrounded by floor after floor of violent criminals and no obvious way out.
Director Gareth Evans gives the ensuing scenes of combat, machete attacks and MacGyver-like moments of explosive creativity a tough, unremitting edge which is part 70s thriller – think Assault On Precinct 13, which saw John Carpenter at the height of his ability to create tension – and part survival horror, with its broken limbs and generous spatters of gore. Having established the tone of his movie with a plastic sheet, a few bullets and a hammer, Evans takes us on a gradually escalating procession of wince-inducing encounters, which frequently involve fists, feet, lightbulbs, and high-impact collisions with tables.
The savagery of the violence is offset by the gentle, guileless face of Iko Uwais. With his extraordinary mastery of the Indonesian martial art, Silat, he has a Bruce Lee-like level of charisma and physicality, at the same time matched by an air of vulnerability akin to Jackie Chan. The expert choreography means we feel every punch and kick, yet Uwais’ performance makes his character more than just another indestructible action hero – even if he can withstand the kind of punishment that would leave the rest of us in a full body cast.
Then there’s Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), Tama’s henchman and indefatigable assassin. Although small in stature, he’s a truly fearsome opponent, and easily one of the most memorable screen villains we’ve seen this year, with his lank hair and unnerving habit of prowling around before he kicks his victims into oblivion (“Squeezing a trigger? That’s like ordering takeout,” is how Mad Dog describes his insatiable appetite for a punch-up).
Like his performers, who appear to risk life and limb in performing the film’s gonzo indoor stunts, Gareth Evans shows a single-minded dedication to his craft. He uses his low budget (just $1.1 million) to his advantage, creating the impression of a 15-storey maze of grotty corridors and squalid rooms almost entirely on a soundstage. Most martial arts films tend to take place in warehouses or relatively open spaces, but The Raid is always confined – from its opening shots in the back of a police transporter, to its horribly intimate fights in stairwells and descending lifts.
Admittedly, The Raid isn’t the most thought-provoking or life-affirming film of 2012. As its critics have pointed out, Evans’ film is light on dialogue and characterisation, with protagonists and antagonists sketched in rather than carefully shaded. But then again, the same thing could easily be said about The Warriors – Walter Hill’s similarly tough action thriller which was once panned for its superficiality by mainstream critics, but now rightly regarded as a cult masterpiece. Like that film, The Raid has an almost tactile sense of grit and attitude – something largely missing in our digital, scrubbed-up 21st century movies.
Where most studio-backed action movies have to temper every strike to meet the lucrative requirements of a PG-13 certification, The Raid lets the blows and blood run riot. It’s a simple, direct movie which, with the right audience – whether it’s in a cinema with a few dozen action-hungry viewers, or at home, with a handful of appreciative friends – makes for an unforgettable shared experience.
Could The Raid be the ultimate Christmas panto for action fans? Quite possibly. “He’s behind you,” indeed. And he’s probably holding a machete.
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