[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival 2012. It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s national release. Additionally, the film was originally reviewed when the film’s title was simply The Raid.]
As a game reviewer, I actively dislike films that mimic videogames in their plot and pacing. Watching Avatar and 300 made me want to walk out of the theater and put God of War back into my PlayStation. I feared the same would be true of The Raid. Instead, I loved it and I realize I was completely justified in disliking Avatar and 300 — they just never committed to their genre like The Raid does.
Also, if you like watching dudes getting their neck snapped you should really, really go see this film!
The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan maut)
Director: Gareth Evans
Release Date: March 23rd
Comparing a film’s plot to a videogame is generally a negative criticism. As anyone who plays games knows, games are filled with predictable plots and shallow characters that are only there to justify the action on screen — even this they often fail at.
The Raid is about a SWAT team that enters a 15+ story apartment complex that is run by a gang leader, who must be taken into custody at all costs. And, that’s it. So, yeah, it’s a plot that would fit perfectly in a videogame. What ties The Raid together, and makes it more than a plot better served in a Metal Gear Solid game, is the choreography and directing.
The film opens with a ticking clock, a rhythm the film imitates long after the sound fades. In mere minutes, the audience is thrown into gun fights, martial arts battles to the death, and plenty of knives being thrust and pulled in increasingly gruesome ways. The filler found in the martial arts and John Woo films that The Raid often channels is nowhere to be found. However, there are twists, dramatic moments without gun muzzles flashing, and suspense that raises the stakes of a fight.
At the start of the film, the SWAT team enters the complex and reaches the fifth floor with no difficulty. It’s like watching a pro-player going through their favorite game just to show off. And, then they reach the fifth floor where the mini-boss appears: A child who the team’s sergeant shoots in the throat, but not before the boy alarms the rest of the building. Wait, that’s actually pretty heavy. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in a videogame.
Part of The Raid‘s success is due to the gritty nature of its subjects and setting. These Indonesian thugs look like they are cut straight from the headlines, not from a ’90s B-rate action flick. The gang’s boss has style and character, but not the extent of a Die Hard villain. The SWAT team members — though mostly are faceless — operate in moral greys and are ready to forsake their civil service if it means their own survival. That includes shooting children. Every action film needs a hero and The Raid has Rama (Iko Uwais) — the team leader who is willing to go back into the lion’s den to save his men.
Written, directed, and edited by Gareth Evans — a Welshman obsessed with the Asian arts — The Raid has a visionary touch to it that puts it on a level far above any other Asian action film in recent memory. Evans takes things from Paul Greengrass, John Woo, and classic kung-fu films to make something utterly unique. The way Evans sets up his action scenes gives them a weight and visual flair that keeps things interesting. He constantly makes use of his very limited setting (apartment room, meth lab, apartment room, etc.) in exciting ways.
While Evans tees up the ball, it’s Iko Uwais and the rest of the cast that hits it into the green. Take the one-versus-many approach of Oldboy’s famous fight scene, add in the brutality of a Takashi Miike film, and the unique Indonesian Silat fighting-style, and you have The Raid. The film has an equal mix of gun-fu — more glorious than any John Woo film — and martial arts, with some fights going on for five-or-more minutes. It’s always intense and never monotonous, because the environment and stakes-at-play are constantly shifting.
There is a reason people don’t make films as action-packed as The Raid: most directors and actors can’t keep up the originality and momentum, so they settle on 60-percent filler instead. Evans has done the impossible by being extremely resourceful and creative. Even with fight after fight after fight, there is always something new and surprising around the corner. One fight has the characters chasing each other by breaking the floor boards below, while another starts with a thug proclaiming, “Pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout” — so he puts down his gun and chooses to physically beatdown his opponent instead.
I don’t want to play this videogame. I’m perfectly content with watching when the players compete at a skill level as high as this.
Matthew Razak: The Raid is the first kung fu/action flick I’ve been truly blown away by in a long while. It gave me the kind of thrills seeing Ong Bak for the first time. The fights are intense and incredibly well done. More importantly, though, they’re original. It’s hard to make a kung fu flick without copying or stealing from a lot of other movies, but The Raid feels fresh with every scene. The final 2-on-1 fight is one of the most gripping battles I’ve seen on screen even as it gets more and more ridiculous. This movie is a testimony to how great fight movies can be. 93 – Spectacular