You guys. Seriously. Ho. Lee. Sh*t.
Every genre of movies has a pantheon. The films that define, redefine, reinvigorate and blow the roof off. In the realm of action flicks, we’re talking about movies like Die Hard, The Matrix, The Killer, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Aliens. You’ve read our breakdown of the best action films of all time, right? (No? Shame on you!) Well whenever it is that we decide to revisit and update that list, I have no doubt that The Raid will show up very high (the film was recently redubbed The Raid: Redemption, but I’m sticking with the shorter title).
The premise of this Indonesian film is as simple as can be. Set in the country’s capital of Jakarta, crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) is considered a practical god to those in the underworld. He owns (and resides in the top of) a broken-down 15-story apartment building, where he rents rooms out to lowlives and runs a narcotics laboratory. Fed up, the local police put together an elite SWAT-like team to raid the building and capture Tama. That’s the movie. Storm the apartment building, capture the drug lord, get out. The setup for all of this takes about 10 minutes, as we primarily follow Jaka (Joe Taslim), the organizer of the this team, and rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) get ready for the raid.
Ten minutes, and then we’re off to the races. As one would expect, once they begin their early morning raid, things do not go as planned. The next 90-odd minutes are almost entirely made up of relentless, blood-pumping (and splattering) action. Hand guns, sniper rifles, automatics, army knives, machetes, axes, billy clubs, butane tanks, martial arts, it just keeps coming. The resulting damage and carnage is horrifyingly bloody, violent and delicious — broken bones, broken faces, broken necks, gashed necks, punctured necks, punctured lungs, punctured everything, slashed everything, gashed everything, head meet wall, face meet wall, head meet door jam, splattered brains, blood smears and bullet holes. So many bullet holes riddling everything and almost everyone. (The cast list during the credits lists all the bodies that succumb to the carnage by their general class and a number — e.g., “goon on the 6th floor #1” through “goon in the 6th floor #15” — and is hilarious.)
While the gun-play scenes are all fun to watch, it’s the combat scenes that are breathtakingly amazing. The fights were choreographed by two of the actors, Iko Uwais and Yayun Ruhian, and these guys are studs. The fights they’ve put together are insanely complex and as beautiful as dance routines. Many of the fights, either one-on-one or one against an unrelenting swarm, run for so long that I can’t begin to imagine how much time was spent planning and rehearsing the moves. There is simply no way to describe it beyond saying it’s awesome.
There are a few breaks in the action, quiets before the next oncoming storm, but even those scenes are filthy with tension (only one scene is truly tension free, an excellent late-character development scene involving the rookie Rama). The Raid is unapologetically violent and gory. Not torture-porn violent, and with a few exceptions the shots of gore come and go quickly, but if you don’t wince at least once, you’re as heartless as Tama (who is introduced early in the film with an excellent scene that lets you know we’re dealing with a real twisted son of a bitch here).
Speaking of Tama, while the action sequences are the true stars of this film, this crop of unknown (at least stateside) Indonesian actors are all excellent. Ray Sahetapy, a well-established Indonesian actor with a 30-plus year career is phenomenal as the crime lord, portraying Tama’s calm coolness and twisted sickness so quietly that it’s terrifying. And although Joe Taslim (Jaka) and Iko Uwais (Rama) are relative newcomers, even to Indonesian film, they combine to provide exactly the class of hero you want to root for in a film like this. While the rest of the cast is similarly great, the other particular stand-out is Yayan Ruhian (the film’s other fight choreographer with Uwais), who plays one of Tama’s trusted henchmen (dubbed “Mad Dog”). Fight scenes aside, Ruhian nails Mad Dog’s twisted respect for the art of battle and is the closest thing the film offers to a villain you might think about pulling for (but he’s also made so merciless that you cannot do so). I wouldn’t be surprised to see several of these actors in high demand for US action flicks in the very near future.
There are two other stars to film — the camera work and the soundtrack. Director Gareth Evens keeps the camera moving almost constantly, playing with speed and angles in a way that manages to heighten the already tense and frenetic fight and combat sequences. But he does it in a way that,, unlike something directed by Paul Greengrass, doesn’t confuse or interfere with the action. You always know exactly what is going on, who is hitting who, running where, etc. (I will warn those who get nauseous with constant camera moves that this might not be the film for you.)
The score, done by Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) and Joseph Trapanese, is exactly what you want from an action film soundtrack. It’s the type of score that would make an excellent gym mix and adds to the film without distracting, keeping a beating undercurrent that holds the tension up and the energy active. This isn’t the film’s original score, and it’s unclear if a studio forced a new score on the filmmakers. Whatever the reason for the change, it works.
The Raid is simply a stunning action film. While there are character beats and a story that offers some twists and turns that are generally obvious well before they hit, it is first and foremost an action film. The action is the star and the action offers a breakout performance.
The Raid: Redemption screened at South by Southwest 2012 and begins a limited US run on March 23. Buckle up.