The Raid (2011)
(18) Running time: 101 minutes
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
I will attempt to keep this review short and sweet, and even though I am now quite literally bursting with complete admiration for director Gareth Evans’ blistering action flick, the rule of “less said the better” completely applies here. The Raid is quite simply one of the most astonishing action flicks I have EVER seen, and it really is an adrenalin rush best experienced with very little prior knowledge. If you trust my reviews, in fact, even if you think I talk a whole load of nonsense, then please just do me this one favour and TRUST me when I say: You will have never, and will never again see anything quite like The Raid, period!
The Raid raises the bar on action and martial arts flicks, it raises them to a level never seen before, and won’t be seen again until Evans gives us his next film in his planned ‘Raid’ trilogy. There is something very very special here, something truly amazing, and believe it or not, this is only Evans’ third film. His previous efforts include the rarely seen Footsteps, and the brilliant but not that successful Merantau (which sadly lives in Ong Bak’s shadow). Incredibly, The Raid was made on a terribly small budget, features a cast of relative unknowns, and totally embarrasses any recent martial arts or action flick, in fact, it spits blood all over action films from the past two or three decades. I have never been this blown away by such stunning fights and gratuitous violence, and I cannot remember the last time I sat in a cinema and actually winced or let out a loud “ouch!” as some poor bugger snuffed it. The Raid delivers on all counts, it was exactly what I was hoping it was going to be, in fact, it completely blew away all my expectations. I knew it was gonna be good, but never expected it to be THIS good!
So here’s the premise, a team of rookies join a Lieutenant and his selected team to raid a building in the Jakarta slums in Indonesia. The target building is a 30 story shithole which houses the cities criminals, with Mr Big living on the top floor and controlling the entire building. The 20 cops attempt to sneak in, go floor by floor with a plan to take down Mr Big without being noticed. However, there are lookouts, and as you would have probably have guessed, Mr Big (a horrible bastard by the way) is alerted to the police presence and all hell quite literally breaks loose. There is a minor back story to our main character, Rama (superbly played by Iko Uwais) as we first meet him at home with his pregnant wife, and his story also leads in to a twist that you will have guessed from the opening scene. However, Evans isn’t here to get complicated with plots and backstories, all Evans wants to do is give you the ride of your life, and he does. The Raid will literally take your breath away, and I guarantee your jaw will drop on the floor enough times to leave it bruised and bloody.
Evans wastes no time getting right down to it, and we join the cops as they enter the building over a ferocious, pounding soundtrack. The gritty realism is expertly realised, and stays with the film throughout. Once in the building, we know it is all about to kick off, but when it does, you will be shocked and amazed at just how violent this film is. Evans introduces us to Mr Big as he kills off a group of men, one by one shooting them in the head. Evans’ camera is up close and personal, and it is here we get the idea of just how violent this film will be. Known as Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the vicious crime lord runs out of bullets and casually goes to his drawer, pulls out a hammer and uses that on the last man instead. However, this violent scene is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are some truly horrific scenes to come. Guns are fired, often very close up and in victims faces, machetes used like toys, knives come out, chairs, refrigerators, Christ, even a broken tube light is used in one of the most shocking scenes in the film. However, violent as this film is in its use of weapons, the hand to hand combats are truly something to be amazed at. Evans gets right in there with the fighters, up close and as personal as you can get as his jittery, frantic camera follows each battle like its life depended on it. However, those fed up of close camera battles fear not, for the director knows when to pull back so you can see things more clearly.
The fights happen over a blistering, pumping dance soundtrack which comes and goes as it pleases, and it reaches its height in a savage, breathtaking battle in what looks like a drug laboratory. And then silence, Evans teases in places and suddenly cuts off all music and lets you experience exactly what the characters experience, like when the police first hear Tama announce to the entire building that it is “infested with unwelcome guests, go and have some fun”, you could hear a pin drop, and the tension is almost unbearable. The characters themselves are astonishingly played by the cast of unknowns, with Iko Uwias leading the way as the main character Rama. Comparisons will clearly be made to Tony Jaa, but Uwais is far more violent, and batters his opponents like there is no tomorrow. Witness him smash someone’s head against the wall until the wall is ready to collapse, break limbs, stab, slice and even impale someone on a broken door frame, neck first. Hell, he even throws someone out of a window and joins them in order to make sure they die. It is great to see a good guy really give it some, and some scenes are genuinely frightening. The villains are all seriously horrible, people you would hate to meet, let alone piss off, and while Mad Dog is suitably vile, it is his henchmen which really strike fear into the viewer.
Witness a wide eyed psychotic as he stalks the halls of the building looking for what’s left of the police, machete in hand desperate to carve someone up. A scene where he drives his machete through a wall in the hope of finding someone hiding in the wall crevices is almost too tense to watch. Then there is the little fella with the long hair, a guy who could quite possibly be the baddest bad ass you will ever see. Hating using guns, in one scene he walks a policeman into a quite room, orders the officer to put his knife down while he casually puts his gun on the side, removes his jumper and tells the officer how he prefers using his hands “using a gun is like ordering a takeaway” he says. He is a truly fearsome little chap, and provides some of the film’s most incredibly fight scenes.
I have now said too much, but I seriously had to get all that off my chest, and after seeing The Raid, all I want to do is go and watch it again. This is the most violent, brutal and brilliant fight film you will possibly ever see, there is genius at work here, and after this, fight films will not and cannot be the same again. The Raid is an adrenalin rush from start to bloody finish, and all that goes on inbetween is unlike anything I have ever seen. The action is phenomenal, the fight scenes brutal and expertly choreographed and the characters are all believable and incredibly perfect. This is just too good to put into words, in fact, I cannot think of the words to best describe this groundbreaking masterpiece. Gareth Evans has secured his place as quite possibly the best action director in the world here, and he has done it with what looks like stunning ease. I doubt he ever expected his film to be quite as good as this, quite as groundbreaking, and I wonder if he ever realised that he has now set the standard that all other action films will be judged against. If you see a better action film this side of the next film in the Raid trilogy, I will personally go down to this building of criminals, find Mr Big and tell him he is a pussy and see if I survive. The Raid is simply put, astonishing and if I could award a higher mark than 10 I would, but stupid rules won’t allow it! Gareth Evans, you’re a genius and you should be very proud!