Rating: ★★★★☆

Isn’t it great when a film can actually keep pace with the hype machine built around it? Welshman Garth Evans’ The Raid is an almost impossibly efficient action film, a no-nonsense juggernaut of lightning-quick martial arts and extreme violence. Appealing so eagerly to our basic sense of gratification, this is very much the bounding, confident actioner that genre fans have been starved of.

The premise is laughably simple; entrenched in Jakarta’s slum district is a desolate apartment complex, which has become a hideaway for the city’s most repellent and dangerous criminals. At the top floor, crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) operates a drug lab, dutily protected by thirty floors of violent psychopaths. Early one morning, a 20-man SWAT team, including rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) initiates a dawn raid, sweeping from floor-to-floor, with the single aim of eliminating Tama and his crime empire once and for all.

The Raid’s detractors might be keen to label it as a “video game” movie because of its singular, seemingly repetitive premise. Proof that strong direction counts for a lot, Evans fondly recalls the earlier work of Quentin Tarantino, John Woo and Ringo Lam as he puts us through the paces of this unremittingly intense, savagely violent raid-gone-wrong. Barely stopping for downtime and never cutting away outsider the apartment block, The Raid doles out just a few pre-raid morsels – we briefly meet Rama’s pregnant wife – before letting loose with an unfettered torrent of mayhem. There is little regard for dialogue here, to the extent that even the subtitling job is half-assed on the UK print of the film; countless sentences are only sporadically punctuated, and others do not even begin with a capital letter.

While opening action is characterised by relentless gunfire, the more exhilarating moments come once the ammo is expended, and Rama and his team resort to unbelievable hand-to-hand combat. Stunt choreography is elegantly brutal, such that one wonders how nobody suffered serious injuries as a result, and enough “extras” – ranging from fridges, to chairs, tables, broken door frames, and banisters – are employed such that the sparring never becomes repetitive or tiresome. Those trying to keep up with the body count, meanwhile, will probably lose track before act one is over.

Evans tightly directs his film, utilising dynamic cinematography to keep the action and location fresh, while punchily editing it for maximum visceral impact. A fantastic, pulsing score by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda alongside Joseph Trapanese helps maintain the pic’s intensity, energetic and atmospheric as it is, complimenting the stellar diegetic sound design, comprised largely of snapping bones and blistering gunfire. One suspects that a non-stop barrage of violent set-pieces could prove exhausting, and so Evans does compartmentalise the action into smaller chunks, separated by brief moments of respite. He saves the best for last, though, a lengthy 2-on-1 slugfest, maddeningly impressive and not at all diluted by its length.

The only real critique – outside of its simplicity, which really is not a critique at all – is that some characters appear and disappear out of the film in relatively disorientating fashion. One memorable machete-wielding foe promptly vanishes and is apparently not seen again, while other characters – particularly one who is rather relevant to the story – pops up out of nowhere. Nevertheless, it is a minor quibble in a film that, otherwise, is superbly edited and has a staggering sense of spatial awareness given all of the carnage.

In terms of achieving their goals, few films succeed as unqualified and as efficiently as this. It might seem to aim low, but Evans directs traffic with such deftness that the film reconfigures itself as a bursting, even beautifully violent piece of super-charged entertainment. Possibly the best John Woo film that John Woo never made, The Raid is a skull-splintering slice of wish fulfillment.

The Raid is in UK cinemas now.

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This article was first posted on May 19, 2012