We’re used to being told what’s the best action film of the year, the funniest comedy, the scariest film. Delivered unscrupulously and intensely from all angles in pre-screening trailers, TV spots, Youtube commercials, Bus posters, and many more forms of media saturating us with quotes that if true would result in multiple masterpieces every week of the year. Of course we know most of these five star reviews and over-amplified glorifications are nonsense, mostly from showbiz correspondence mags and columns who have it within their need to praise such products, either that or they haven’t a clue. With The Raid – a new beat ’em up/shoot ’em up from Indonesia – you can believe every bit of hype stirred up over it. It doesn’t just tick every box but puts the pen through the paper, signing off in blood. This film is destined for cult status.
The action genre has been in a creative rut for many years, long past are the days of Die Hard (ignoring the continuing franchise) and the once world igniting talents of John Woo, we get enough action films in a year but how many of them stick around for a second thought, that linger with classic set-pieces inducing wonder and adrenaline into audiences? Even those not focussing on CGI wizardry seem to play it safe and only draw deja vu.
Welsh born writer/director/editor Gareth Evans clearly understands the genre and has no desire to reinvent or subvert its conventions, instead creating a perfect example of action cinema that dishes out the goods in every respect, devoid of pretension. This well informed yet simplistic approach is made clear from the start as we’re given reason to invest in our main hero (the ultra talented Iko Uwais) as he leaves his pregnant wife, reason to hate the villain as we witness a cold-blooded execution on his part, and as a SWAT team are heading towards their target we’re filled in on the mission at hand. A savage mobster seen as ‘untouchable’ lies in a tenement building with all his thugs, the building acts as refuge from police as long as those in need can pay or provide service. It’s up to SWAT to take the block one level at a time before bringing down its crime lord – a simple premise handled with upmost respect and proficiency.
It’s not long before the bullets start flying and the punches are thrown, the action is intense and wild but never bewildering with Evans shooting with the insight of a master, editing with surgical precision. What at first starts as a battle of fire power soon turns into deadly fist fights as ammunition runs low, at this point its time for The Raid’s hero to shine. In the film’s vast showcasing of martial arts mayhem the intensity is never dampened through repetition, each fight has plenty to impress and never fails to cause fits squints and gasps. Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda provides a pulsating electronic soundtrack that delivers atmosphere and energy, never distracting from the action, only adding to it. The Raid keeps the heart rate up for its entire duration and never exceeds into silliness; the fights although cinematically heightened have a real nastiness to them, despite the technical immensity on show each fight has a sloppy struggle to them, each blow is felt and fatal, holding you every second. Although containing excessive amounts of violence it never becomes sadistic, when it looks like we could get a dose of Oldboy (2003) like savagery it cuts away, and despite seeing men maimed in ways thought unimaginable it never lingers on suffering. You could even argue The Raid is less spiteful than Bride Wars (2009).
The film follows sequential steps in keeping with its simple plot and genre placings, however it never feels overly blatant in its trajectory due to the state of wonderment it awards us. What’s more impressive is how Evans – clearly a fan of action cinema – has studied the works of greats like Peckinpah, Woo, and the classic staples of the genre yet his film never feels like a throwback, a send up to the masters with homage and flattery. The Raid doesn’t hide its influences nor is it ashamed of going down much travelled routes and for its modesty, craft, passion and respect for the genre, and not desperately trying to reinvent action cinema, The Raid has taken the world by storm proving that working hard and excelling at what you do is better than reinventing the wheel. If you’re a fan of action films and blokes beating each other up this is pure nirvana, if not inclined towards such unsavoury happenings this is certainly not for you.
With a sequel planned, Hollywood remake also pending, and surely a video game adaptation soon to be button bashed to smithereens, you can expect to hear a lot more from Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais after the masses have cooled down over this one, though that may be some time yet.