A SWAT team attempts to covertly raid a tenement run by a ruthless mobster (Ray Sahetapy) that serves as a barracks for his private army of the city's worst killers and criminals. When they're discovered the survivors must fight their way out through brutal beatings, razor sharp machetes and hails of gun fire. Wow! That's the first thing that I can say. I had heard a few whispers about the The Raid prior to seeing it. Phrases like "best action film of the year" get bandied about as marketing spin but let me assure you that I haven't seen such a frenetic, hard hitting, bloody mess of a film any time that I can remember. The only things that come close is the Crazy 88 fight sequence in Kill Bill Volume 1 and the Hallway Hammer scene in Oldboy - but to be honest, neither come close. This is pure action. The story isn't the emphasis here - pushing the envelope of action cinema, fight choreography, and to incite the audiences' voyeuristic blood lust is the game.
Writer/Director Gareth Evans does a phenomenal job in enunciating who the players are with great economy in the script so that even though there's very little time before we dive head long into this action masterpiece, you're able to invest in the good characters and are fearful of the insane bloodlust of the antagonists. Rama (Iko Uwais) is our hero; he's got a warrior spirit and he's a family man. The opening of the film sees his daily physical training routine and gives a glimpse of his fighting potential - and it teases us to his search for his lost brother in a short and silent scene with his elderly father. The Villain of the piece is the wonderful Ray Sahetapy as Tama - whose casual attitude to murder is frighteningly hilarious. You're engaged throughout and as the situation unfolds there's a mystery to unfold.
Evans turns the apartments into a terrifying claustrophobic space where Tama's armed forces trap the team on the 6th floor and they have to fight their way out. After the initial turkey shoot significantly thins the ranks of the SWAT team - the remaining soldiers get resourceful and use what ever means they have to survive. The opening of the action is a really thorough portrayal of the militaristic tactics of the swat team, proficient with automatic weapons. In the wake of the ambush and the intense and unexpected fire fight the focus shifts to close range blade fighting (knife/machete) and hand to hand martial arts combat.
For a public that's increasing desensitised by cinema and aware of UFC and MMA - the over the top 'slow-mo' Jean Claude Van Damme (JCVD to his friends) spinning back kicks of Blood Sport are laughable and obsolete. Modern action has been moving towards efficient take downs, harder hits and accurate portrayals of damage of physical violence. The Raid sets a new standard. Evans uses Iko Uwais as the centre piece for some of the most amazing, wild fight sequences and choreography that I've ever seen. Everything about the environment and available weaponry influences every unique battle either as obstacles, protection, projectiles or stabbing weapons. Uwais is a fucking surgeon with a blade so much so that I would totally be terrified of him bringing a knife to a gun fight. He tears opponents apart with an arsenal of some spectacular martial arts; while also having to demonstrate improvisations in confined spaces and because of multiple enemies with varying weapons.
It's the perfect mix of purposeful seamless choreography mixed with the unexpected that keeps the fight sequences engaging. The hero tires; he isn't huge so his hits cant always knock a man down with a single blow and he feels the beatings that he takes. The action in The Raid has me audibly gasping, groaning and laughing amongst all of the graphic violence. Backs break; red mist clouds the air in the wake of people being chopped down by gun fire; to quote Brick-top from Snatch knives and machetes "go through bones like butter". I know that it's a big call, but The Raid is easily one of the best all out action films I've ever seen. It is 'cine-sadism' at its finest. Hits hurt; sweat drips; blood spatters; machetes slice; bones crunch and break; you'll gasp, you'll laugh, you'll applaud and you'll want to marvel at it again.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Written and Directed by: Gareth Evans Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George and Ray Sahetapy
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.