By Marty Mulrooney
The Raid is an Indonesian action film written and directed by Welsh film director Gareth Evans. Originally released in 2011 and now finding a worldwide release in 2012, the film stars Indonesian martial arts actor Iko Uwais, who was discovered by Evans whilst shooting a documentary about the martial art Pencak Silat in 2007. Uwais stars as rookie cop Rama, part of a 20-man SWAT team tasked with raiding a 30-floor derelict apartment building that has long served as a safe house for the city’s killers, gangsters and murderers, all overseen by the fearsome crime lord Tama Riyadi.
The Raid has a simple premise that offers maximum potential as an action film. Rookie cop Rama (Uwais) is introduced undertaking a vigorous early morning exercise regime while his pregnant wife sleeps in the next room. From there, we are crammed into a SWAT van as Rama joins 20 other men led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim). The operation is being overseen by Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), who ordered the raid and has hidden motives of his own.
As expected, the raid begins smoothly. The SWAT team successfully infiltrate the apartment building, silently taking down lookouts and securing the floors one corridor at a time. It’s impressive to watch – the SWAT team seems like an unstoppable force and Lieutenant Wahyu is completely in control of his men. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of an action film if everything continued to go to plan and right on cue, everything suddenly goes wrong – before continuing to nosedive at an alarming rate.
A child ‘lookout’ hits a panic button, alerting crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) and his right hand men Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and “Mad Dog” (Yayan Ruhian). Riyadi calmly takes action. Over the intercom, he makes a simple proposition to the building’s residents: kill the cops and stay free of charge. And please, enjoy yourself. His casual delivery of these lines is blood-chilling and from this moment onwards there is no doubt that things are going to get extremely messy.
It begins with guns. The SWAT team come under heavy fire from gun-toting criminals and their numbers immediately start to diminish. They are better trained but their opponents have an advantage in numbers, are familiar with the environment and have nothing to lose. Sergeant Jaka demands that Lieutenant Wahyu orders backup before coming to the horrifying realisation that no one knows they are there – this is an unsanctioned mission that is quickly becoming a death trap.
The premise entirely set up, The Raid focuses squarely on rookie cop Rama as he shows amazing resilience and strength against overwhelming odds. Think Die Hard mixed with incredible martial arts and injected with enough testosterone to kill a bull. He proves adept with guns – and makeshift fridge bombs – but his hands are the real weapons and boy does he know how to use them. The fight choreography by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian is flawless. It never feels like the actors are simply ‘waiting for their turn’ and each blow crunches with brutality.
Every single fight scene is a highlight – an early corridor brawl sets the standard as Rama takes on multiple assailants with only the use of a knife and his bare hands. Heads are smashed into walls, thighs sliced open and necks stabbed to the hilt. Iko Uwais makes the martial art Pencak Silat a thing of beauty. It’s the improvisation of Jason Bourne mixed with the speed and precision of Bruce Lee. Rama never feels invincible – a trap the later Matrix films certainly fell into with Neo – and as a result, the action remains gripping from beginning to end.
It’s easy as a reviewer to claim to your readers that you will have never seen anything like this before – but in this case it could very well be true. Even the staunchest martial arts film fan should be able to find something new to admire here. The Raid isn’t a cheery movie. It’s dark, gory and violent. Yet there is beauty to be found in its direction, its soundtrack (the US subtitled version features a memorable score by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Joseph Trapanese) and its choreography. It’s a simple premise delivered for all it’s worth and the epic close quarters fight scene with Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) is worth the price of admission alone.
The Raid doesn’t have much emotion behind it, which is the only way in which it really falters. The story, although it has some nice twists and turns, is an excuse – the action is the real reason to keep watching. Roger Ebert awarded the film one star in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, saying how it is “essentially a visualized video game.” Of course, we all know his thoughts on video games. In this case, for this reviewer at least, he couldn’t be more wrong – this is the best action film in recent memory. For the right audience members, this will undoubtedly be the film of the year. Not every film needs an emotional core – sometimes its fun to simply strap in and go along for the ride. You’ll wince, you’ll laugh, you’ll gasp. You’ll have a blast.
9 OUT OF 10