Saturday, 31 August 2013

Review: The Raid (2011)

The Raid is a hardcore Indonesian action movie created by Welsh director Gareth Evans and starring Iko Uwais. This is the second teaming of the actor/director duo following 2009’s Merantu Warrior. The Raid premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011, where it was awarded the Midnight Madness Award and was well received by the majority of critics. The film has so far raked in over 4 million at the US Box office alone, prompting talks of a Hollywood remake.

Tough cookie, rookie Rama is at the centre of The Raid’splot. He starts his day with an early morning workout. Several slugs of a punch-bag later, he tenderly kisses his pregnant wife and leaves for a very, very hard day’s work in Jakarta’s slum district. At the heart of the district stands an ugly, overbearing tower-block owned by the city’s most dangerous criminal, Tama Ruyadi (Ray Sahetapi), who is also a major manufacturer of illegal pharmaceuticals. The building is a hub of illegal activity. It’s not easy on the eye and equally not very easy to enter.

Everyone, including the police, lives in fear of this monstrosity and the villain who rules it. Today, Rama, along with a brave SWAT team, intends to infiltrate the block. Their mission is to capture evil Tama and put an end to the illegalities. Upon entry, the team demobilise several doped-up residents and silence them with duct tape so that the villains can be approached discreetly. But, as they ascend the concrete steps they are spotted by a young boy who triggers an alarm which prompts a whole lot of bloodshed. The team suddenly become outnumbered and stranded on the sixth floor with no ammunition, only to discover that the mission was not sanctioned by the department. Tama makes an announcement to residents of the tower-block declaring free permanent residency to anyone who kills the intruders and suddenly the police find themselves the subject of a new mission – a fight for survival...

From the off, director Evans ensures that you have affinity with the protagonist by introducing his pregnant wife. As contrived as this introduction may be, the niceties are done, Rama’s motive is explained, and the action may now commence. The fist-pumping soundtrack by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and composer Joseph Trapanese is almost always accompanied by relentless gunfire or the sound of flesh being mercilessly pounded. The plot contains the required amount of twists, shocks and violent surprises and although on the whole, the screenplay is formulaic and predictable, this is largely overshadowed by the stunning visuals and the velocity in which events unfold. The actors all do a wonderful job of adding substance to their roles, in particular Iko Uwais as protagonist Rama. Uwais brings so much charm and charisma to the role that you care for him regardless of his impending fatherhood. Uwais transcends audience expectations of the action-movie star. He performs his role soulfully and with great emotional depth. Much to Uwais’s credit he maintains his affable stature even whilst blowing someone’s head off or slicing their face in two like a Christmas ham.

Yahan Ruhain as the appropriately named Mad Dog delivers a stand-out performance as the Yang to Rama’s Yin. He is the physical outlet of Tama’s evil and is terrifying in his confidence and ruthless agility. Ruhain approaches the role with the ferocity of small terrier whose bite is far worse than his bark. He is seemingly unbeatable when he takes on two opponents at once and fights for the art of his skill, rather than the kill. The incongruity of the physically small actor and his unbridled aggression create a machismo freak of nature, which makes him such a wonderful villain and the perfect contrast to Rama’s good guy persona. The fight scenes, which feature the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, were choreographed by the aforementioned actors Iko Uwais (Rama) and Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog). Whether multiple characters fighting or just two, each ruckus is constructed beautifully and with the intricacy of a royal ballet performance.

The violence is extreme to say the least but it is justifiable in its relativity to the plot and wholly necessary for reasons of story development, character formation and in enabling the viewer to empathise with the appropriate characters. Director Evans is clearly an expert in high octane action movies and knows his source material well. The Raid is set out, with no pretensions, as a full-on genre film with no heirs or graces just hardcore action in its purest, most visceral form. The overall aesthetic is gritty, gloomy and unnerving. Evans wants his audience to fear the building as much as his intruders and he pulls this off with great success. One would certainly not book a holiday to Jakarta on the back of this film. The influence of John Woo’s Hard Boiled action is always evident and in a corridor fight sequence Rama takes on his enemies Oldboy style to literally jaw-dropping effect. Sensitive viewers may experience feelings of motion-sickness at the beginning of the film as the quivering handheld camera is sometimes a little overwhelming but as the film proceeds, the action, although heavily dosed on amphetamine, becomes smoother and more fluid in its directorial style.

This being only his third feature Gareth Evans shows huge promise and his collaboration with his choreographers is a match made in ass-kicking heaven. The Raid is a relentless, throbbing, pulsing, punching, kick, stab and a slam of a film. With a charismatic lead in Iko Uwais, a faultless supporting cast, compelling direction and some of the most pulse-racing action sequences in recent memory. It is the combination of these faultless elements that make the movie a cut above your average action film. The Raid is the most enjoyable way to increase your heart rate. It’s a welcome shot of adrenalin and, if you like your meat rare, a bloody great feast for the eyes.

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