By Andy LaRock (Chicago)
I’m the kind of guy that likes a good action movie. I’ve never quite had the patience for movies that lack excitement, and the 2011 Indonesian action-thriller The Raid, directed by Gareth Evans, delivers on excitement in spades.
The Raid centers on a team of police commandos in Jakarta who have been tasked with arresting a crime lord by means of storming his apartment complex stronghold. Things quickly go awry and rookie officer Rama, played by Iko Uwais, is thrust into a desperate survival situation as he must contend with an entire building full of hardened criminals that are out for blood.
I went into The Raid expecting it to be high on action and light on plot, and that’s exactly what I got. This is a movie that knows exactly what it’s about, and it’s about gritty, no-holds-barred action. The Raid picks up very quickly; starting with the commando team’s infiltration of the stronghold almost right off the bat and wasting little time on turning the odds against our heroes and forcing them to fight tooth and nail for their lives.
The first portion of the film consists of solidly entertaining gunfights, but it really starts to shine when it transitions its action to a martial arts focus. While martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Ip Man have fight scenes that have a certain sense of grace and artistry, The Raid makes sure that its fights are full force and full impact. The martial arts choreography is excellent throughout the film; the fights don’t pull any punches and every last one feels like a life-or-death struggle. Martial artists such as Uwais, Joe Taslim, and Yayan Ruhian put their talents to good use in this movie, each bringing no small amount of skill to the table. While their acting performances aren’t exactly Oscar-worthy, their fighting prowess is what we’re really here for.
The Raid harkens back to the days of 80s action movies like Die Hard, Terminator, and Rambo, when R-rated violence was a much safer bet and studios weren’t breaking their necks to hit the coveted PG-13 sweet spot. Overall, I think that the film’s willingness to go all-in on its action and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from a bit of blood definitely plays to its favor. The spectacle of its over-the-top fight scenes would only be harmed by a reduction of impact, and it’s admittedly satisfying to see an action movie that doesn’t toe the tepid line of trying to keep its violence moderate enough to get the broadest appeal possible.
As I said previously, this is not a plot-heavy movie. While there were a couple of twists that spice up the story a bit, The Raid is a movie that mostly keeps visual spectacle in the driver’s seat. If anything, I’d actually say that being light on narrative elements is to the film’s benefit. The Raid’s plot and characters are serviceable enough to not be an issue, and working with a barebones story allowed Gareth Evans to get right to the meat of the film with little filler.
My main sources of criticism for The Raid come from its editing, sound design, and effects. The film has a sort of grayish-purple filter in many scenes; while I’d assume the intent was to emphasize the slummy feel of the movie’s setting, I found that it was visually unpleasant and made the blood effects more closely resemble ketchup. In addition to that, there was just something off about the audio editing in some of the fight scenes. It seemed to me like the sound of an impact played a fraction of a second before the blow was landed, just enough to throw me off. This issue isn’t present in a majority of the fights, but it was definitely there enough to be noticed. The set design wasn’t anything to write home about either, as the samey succession of dingy hallways and apartments had a tendency to blend together. These are fairly superficial issues though, and are by no means a deal breaker.
My final verdict on The Raid is that it’s an superb action movie. It doesn’t pull any punches, it doesn’t waste the viewer’s time, and it keeps its stride throughout its entire runtime. Make no mistake, this is not a movie for someone who’s looking for complex characters and well thought out plots, this a movie for someone who’s looking for a thrill ride.