Glasgow Film Festival 2012: ‘The Raid’ is an excellent action thriller, alternately graceful and brutal

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The Raid
Written and directed by Gareth Evans
Indonesia/USA, 2011

The Raid is an action thriller with unmistakable, specific influences, but one that combines them with its own unique qualities to provide a particularly potent collection of thrills. Made in Indonesia but directed by a Welshman, the simple but effective plot of Gareth Evans’ film is almost like a mix of two of its clear influences, Die Hard and Assault on Precinct 13. A derelict apartment building in the heart of Jakarta’s slums acts as a seemingly impenetrable safe house for a ruthless gangster and an array of killers and thugs. Tasked with raiding the fortress and capturing the vicious drug lord who runs it, an elite police team enters the building while under the cover of pre-dawn darkness and silence, only for an unexpected witness to reveal their presence to the criminals in charge. The members of the unit, protagonist Rama among them, suddenly find themselves stranded and easy targets on the sixth floor. With the lights cut off, all exits blocked and a hive of the city’s most deadly criminals looking to exterminate them, the team must fight their way out to survive.

It feels silly and somewhat patronising to attribute Evans’ Western roots combined with an Indonesian production as a defining catalyst for The Raid’s success as a film, but an effective combination of action cinema styles of both the East and West is definitely one of its strongest elements. The unit’s siege begins with heavy gunplay associated with those cited American inspirations like Die Hard, but the action gradually gravitates away from bullets as its source of bloodshed. Fists, blades, and creative use of the apartment surroundings become the dominant tools of combat, and the silat martial arts of star Iko Uwais and others fuel some absolutely mesmerising, brutal action sequences. The film effectively becomes a traditionally Western siege film but with the addition of martial arts, to describe it in rudimentary terms, allowing for such curious sights as an Indonesian police officer defeating machete-wielding criminals with his bare hands while a brooding score reminiscent of John Carpenter’s musical output plays over the proceedings. In regards to other Eastern action cinema, John Woo’s Hard Boiled is an unmistakable influence, particularly its notorious hospital-set final act. Replacing guns with knives, fists and even walls, Evans’ instances of long takes don’t quite reach the lengths of Woo’s in terms of running time and scope, but they possess a similarly hypnotising fluidity that provides an almost balletic barrage of carnage.

In addition to creativity in the action sequences, the film is notably brutal in its depiction of violence despite the stylistic flourishes. Evans has said an intention of his was to make the fights feel like punches to the gut, and while the infliction of wounds is only lingered on in one or two scenes and gore is not especially prominent, each blow, however brief and through whatever means, feels suitably devastating. Unrelenting tension is created through the execution of the set-pieces, excluding some moments of dark physical comedy, and this is certainly not a film that glorifies violence despite its gracefully shot depictions of it.

Iko Uwais as Rama is a revelation. Combining amazing fighting prowess with a strong degree of charisma and humility, he induces favourable comparisons to Bruce Lee. Much like the narrative, the characters are embodiments of recognisable stock elements, but they are all delivered in a deft fashion that is never less than enthralling. Regarding the police, Joe Taslim is particularly engaging as team leader Jaka, while Yayan Ruhian’s Mad Dog is a terrifying key player on the side of the criminals; a deceptively small deliverer of astonishing brute force, the hand-to-hand combat favouring henchman is one of the scariest characters of action cinema in years.

The Raid is a wonderfully executed thriller of great invention and skill, anchored by blistering action set pieces, excellent visual construction and well realised, engaging characters that create an extremely enthralling, tense experience. It is a quite stellar contribution to the genre, and further planned collaborations between Evans and Uwais are particularly enticing.

Josh Slater-Williams

The Raid screened as part of FrightFest’s strand at the Glasgow Film Festival. Director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais were in attendance for a Q&A session following the screening, during which Evans detailed that the film’s theatrical release in North America, as The Raid: Redemption, will see roughly four seconds of cuts to achieve an R rating; these are supposedly minor cuts that will apparently not disrupt the flow of the film at all. This version will also contain a different score, one composed by Mike Shinoda. The version screened at the festival was the unedited original cut of the film.

Visit the official website of the Glasgow Film Festival.

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