Every now and then a film gets released that blurs the boundaries between simply enjoying it and evaluating it. Do you rate it solely on your enjoyment? Or do you analyse each structural element and come to a rational judgement? Welsh director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian “block-buster” The Raid happens to be that film. Simply put, The Raid is a turbo-charged, violent and magnificent piece of action cinema, that while light on narrative and character development, brings a well needed revamp to the stodgy grounds the genre has found itself on.
The story is simple. Set in an apartment complex in the slums of Jakarta, a SWAT team have been set the task to infiltrate the “safe house” where drug dealers, gangsters and murderers reside. Their objective is to arrest Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the most notorious of the bunch. But little do they know, it’s a trap! Narratively speaking,The Raid is barebones. Evans clearly hasn’t invested a considerable amount of time in the construction of a complex plot with rich characters and ground-breaking Indonesian dialogue. To be brutally honest, apart from the revelations during the course of its runtime, the film’s premise is pretty much summed up in the ‘Mission Briefing’ scene, or even in the title. Meanwhile the minor semblances of character development are conveyed in 2 minute introductions that loosely define each personality. For example, our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) gets a “suit up” montage and kisses his pregnant wife goodbye in the opening sequence. Similarly shallow, the villain Tama’s entrance is through his brutal execution of 4 men, which sets the tone for the entire film. Undeniably there’s not a lot of substance, and what is there is rather cliché. But that’s not the film’s paramount concern.
The Raid is first and foremost an action film, and this is where it undoubtably excels. Evans showcases some of the most impressive fight choreography of the last decade, in which every sequence attempts to surpass the previous one. The Indonesian martial arts of Pencak Silat is a breathtaking and brutal blend of bone-fracturing hits and sheer vigour, that constantly highlight the inadequacies of its mere mortal audience. Coupled with shootouts and some of cinema’s most intense knife-fights, The Raid is savage in its approach to astonish and entertain.
Alongside the stunt-team, a lot of credit has to go to cinematographer Matt Flannery and Evans himself in the general direction and editing of the film. While the “shaky-cam” approach unfortunately weaves its way into a few of the brawls, a range of camera angles and techniques bring a dynamic nature and flow to each segment. Meanwhile slow motion is thankfully limited to one-off moments and therefore allows the film to remain at its constant breakneck pace. The visual and audio composition of The Raid isn’t as artistically compelling, but manages to convey the film’s gritty and aggressive personality. The blank sets and enclosed locations frame and focus the action perfectly, while providing a bleak and surprisingly intimidating atmosphere. The audio design is exceptionally punchy and fearsome in its endeavour to make every punch and stab feel vicious and forceful. Simultaneously, the film’s score by Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese successfully captures the fast-paced nature of the onscreen violence, though it’s nothing particularly special.
Overall The Raid is a visceral, ferocious and highly entertaining piece of action cinema. Gareth Evans has created a film with a brutal temperament and with the sole aim of blowing the audience’s minds! If The Raid is to be judged on story, characters, and script then it would fall dramatically short. But as an action film, then without a doubt this is one of the best of the last decade.