A squadron of police officers must survive the deadliest of gauntlets in one of the finest action films in the last ten years.
“Good morning, everyone! You may have noticed we have some guests trawling the halls today. Now I certainly did not invite them, and they most certainly are not welcome. So in the interests of public health… should you help rid this building of its recent infestation, well, then you can consider yourself a permanent resident. Free of charge. You’ll find these fucking cockroaches on the sixth floor. Now go to work. And please, enjoy yourself.”
I’ve mentioned The Raid a number of times on this site, and for good reason. In recent years, quality of film there has drastically improved which has allowed for broader storytelling and for more mainstream, worldwide distribution; what started with the Reformasi movement allowed more and more independent creatives to shape the culture, finally allowing films to be seen by large audiences. This is where Welsh director Gareth Evans comes in. Having lived in Indonesia some time, he found an appreciation for martial art pencak silat and after the success of his action movie Merantau, began work on what would become the movie that put Indonesian cinema on the map.
The Raid has about as simple a premise as you can imagine: Iko Uwais plays Rama, a young cop who’s been assigned to a task force under Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) and Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) to raid an apartment block owned by crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), known for renting to various criminals in exchange for his protection. With him are his bodyguard Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and right-hand man Andi (Donny Alamsyah). Things take a turn for the worst when the task force, now split up, is spotted and Tama instructs every tenant in the building to do their absolute worst. And then all hell breaks loose.
Everything about the movie is explained in about the first ten or so minutes, as the cops are on their way to the titular raid. Normally I wouldn’t appreciate such a heavy exposition dump, but in a film like this it actually works a lot nicer than through a slower show don’t tell style. By getting the questions out of the way first, and limiting the amount that might crop up later, the action is allowed to flow smoothly from that point onwards. Because once they’re off the truck and approaching the complex, the tension has already rocketed and is about to get even higher. Simply watching the teams stealth around the building is nail-biting, but in a different way to what we’re about to see in the building. And this build-up is key to making the entire thing work as the apartment complex is, as an entity, a major antagonist in itself.
I love claustrophobic movies. A good one is able to do a lot with very little and it never ceases to amaze me how a film like Buried can stay entertaining when all we’re doing is watching close-ups of Ryan Reynolds’ face. Action movies can’t exactly limit themselves to such a small scope: it would be impossible to have much gunplay or kung fu in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, for example, but the essence of the claustrophobic film can be kept: the hero cannot escape. And although there have been single-location action films before, and many after, The Raid stands as one of the best examples of this style of moviemaking – soon to be repeated in 2012’s Dredd and to a lesser extent the fantastic (and thematically similar) BuyBust.
Unlike BuyBust, however, The Raid isn’t necessarily going for any particular message. There are no biting hot takes about the state that Jakarta is in, and even when it does talk about corruption in the police force or about how lucrative the slumlord business is, it never cuts deep. All of that is really just there to add a little bit more beef to the plot, and I see how necessary that can be if only to give the audience (and characters) a bit of breathing room in between kicks the head and broken bones. The characters get fleshed out a bit more in those moments as well, or at least the protagonists do. It’s good to see the religious side of Rama, or to understand his relationship with his brother.
Tama, the Big Boss of this video game, sorry movie, doesn’t get in on the action really but his ruthlessness and his presence as the guy controlling everything behind video cameras makes him terribly intimidating, if not particularly noteworthy in terms of performance. The cops are at a massive disadvantage, effectively fighting a dragon in its lair along with all of its little dragon children. He doesn’t get a fight in, but he didn’t really need to: he has hundreds of people lining up for Iko Uwais to destroy. And yes, let’s talk about the action because I’m almost a thousand words in and have barely mentioned it.
At the risk of how this sentence would sound out of context, the massacre is absolutely fantastic, both of the cops and the residents. There are easily more than a few moments that had me wincing. Uwais and Ruhian are easily the MVPs of The Raid, and any scenes with them in it benefits from their scene-stealing energy and their unbelievable ability to kick absolutely anyone’s ass. Evans displays his love of pencak silat with a nonstop assault of some of the most brutal fights in any martial arts movie I’ve seen in a very long time. The inventive choreography takes what Jackie Chan does best – fights rooms full of people in creative ways – and turns the comedy into pure body horror: it’s always a little over-the-top, but never so much that it becomes unbelievable. Props to the countless stunt guys and extras whose skills aren’t only apparent in the fighting, but also with the realistic nerve-damage twitches that they perform whenever necks get broken.
On the other hand, visually this could have used a better palette to make some of the combat easier on the eyes, and to give us a bit of variety over those 100 minutes but this was in a post Dark Knight world, where every film had to have this washed-out grey colour scheme. Thankfully, Evans lets the camera do a lot of the heavy lifting during the more intense fights and transfers all the information from shot to shot, allowing the flow well even when there are more cuts than I’d prefer. He’d step up his game even further with the sequel, but nevertheless what he achieved in The Raid was pretty damn great. If you’re not into brutal Ong-bak style violence, this isn’t going to do anything for you but if you’re looking for an action film that grips you from the start and doesn’t let up, then take a step into the slaughterhouse, and check it out for yourself.
Verdict: With visceral, bloody action from start to finish, The Raid is exhausting, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Sex: Any sex would just take time away from the violence
Colour: What’s that?
Wall stabs: Eeeeeesh
Nice guys in the complex: One! Which is about how many women there are too
The Raid (2011)
Also known as: The Raid: Redemption, Serbuan maut, lit. ‘The Deadly Raid
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Iko Uwais – Rama
Joe Taslim – Jaka
Ray Sahetapy – Tama
Yayan Ruhian – Mad Dog
Donny Alamsyah – Andi
Iang Darmawan – Gofar
Pierre Gruno – Wahyu
Tegar Satrya – Bowo
Eka Rahmadia – Dagu