‘Pulling a trigger is like ordering a takeout.’
What better way to start things off than with a film which resurrects a classic genre long presumed to be dead and buried?
Indonesian martial arts action fest The Raid see’s a crack police unit sent into a working class tower block on a mission to take down a powerful crime boss. Judging by the forlorn and doomed expressions in the officer’s eyes we are safe to assume the mission will not be the typical morning run for bacon butties. Quickly leaving behind this briefest of introductions, the machine guns are whipped out in no time and bodies are hitting the floor. As can be expected the operation does not go by without a few hitches and the cops are duly shot to pieces by heavily armed crims. Trapped between floors they are forced to fight their way out in a desperate rearguard action.
Other than this simple set up there is virtually no semblance of a plot – its not more sophisticated than an ancient computer game really. Some complexity is allowed to creep in when the cop’s well earned reputation for corruption inevitably complicates things, while the many innocent civilians trapped inside their homes within the gang’s territory provide some fleeting moments of humanity amongst the old ultra violence. This simplicity is something which would easily condemn any other film to the bargain bin, but is actually one which works very much in The Raid’s favour.
The chaotic brawls are the real star here and they firmly take center stage. But they get the pulse racing to such uncomfortable levels and for such prolonged periods they are liable to induce mass comas if the audience weren’t given a brief ten minutes here and there to recollect their shattered nerves. By the time the 100th skull is cracked against a concrete floor many will have long past the stage of laughing and whooping and instead be considering crawling under the chair and begging for some rainbows and daffodils.
In this directorial debut, Evans appears to be on a one track mission to create a pure form action; one with which he can roll up tightly and bash you over the head with repeatedly for an hour and a half. It is non-stop, unapologetic action in a style we are unaccustomed to after years of plodding Statham thrillers. It is relentless, frantic, brutal, and incredibly exhausting to behold. There are no lame attempts at humour, no cheesy one liners, no knowing winks to the camera to disarm the audience. No attempts are made to appease unbelievers and there is no attempt to convince anyone who isn’t entirely satisfied with armies of men continually and innovatively beating the shit out of each other.
Rather than actors, we are in fact watching incredibly skilled stuntmen perform a kind of macho ballet, but armed with shards of glass and machetes instead of pom-poms. What acting they are allowed to indulge in is delivered very admirably and, for an action film which obviously has its priorities elsewhere, the dialogue is actually better than many more serious films produced in the West.
Visuals are very gritty and atmospheric, with dank and squalled apartment buildings coming across in a strangely art house kind of way, the scenery doing its humble job as nut crackers quite commendably. The director obviously has a fair share of tricks up his sleeve and even manages to make bullet time seem cool again. There are even a couple of stand out shots which make you suspect this guy will most likely be moving on to better things pretty soon.
Music also plays a big role in the experience helping to orchestrate and pace the incredibly long fights. Just as you begin to think that a particular fight has dragged on maybe a little too long, a new baseline creeps out of the general din of punching, shooting and shouting, warning you that up until this point the action has actually been comfortably cruising and is now about to step up a few more notches.
It is incredible to think that even with all of his attention on the intricate fighting, which is undoubtedly the true star of the show, Evans has still managed to produce such a all round slick and polished production. Without the martial arts battles The Raid would still have stood up well as an action picture. With them it is a true masterpiece of its genre. The only possible down side to be considered is that having given the stagnating genre a much needed shot in the arm, has it now raised the bar too high for Statham & co to compete?