Sometimes it can be tough to write objectively about a film which singlehandedly reaffirms your belief in cinema’s unique power to excite. I sat down recently to watch The Raid at a late-night screening in a packed house at the Brixton Ritzy, and bloody loved every minute of it, as did the audience, who frequently burst forth with the likes of auditoria-applause not experienced (by me) since the dog put on The Mask near the end of The Mask (Streatham Odeon, 1994).
Gareth Evans’ film is blessed with a fantastically simple premise. A nervous, tetchy police squad turn up at an imposing tower block in a Jakarta slum, with orders from on high to take out the vicious slumlord/kingpin who lives at the top. Before long it becomes clear that the mission ain’t gonna be that easy: the tower block is packed to the gills with heavies who really, really know how to look after themselves. There’s worse in store when the reasons for the borderline-suicidal raid become apparent.
Following a deliberately misleading opening rife with gunfights, one man – played with stately grace and determination by Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais – gradually comes to the fore as the protagonist, and the fighting begins. There’s lots of it, it’s very violent, and it’s absolutely fantastic. In interviews, Evans has repeatedly spoken of the importance of space in fight choreography; he feels, rightly, that too much modern action cinema cheats its way around showing what really happens with frantic camera moves and special effects. What strikes you here is that clarity of directorial vision and acute spatial control. Even in a location as intricate as this one, you always know where you are, and what might be coming around which corner.
Evans also has clear, cogent ideas on the deployment of violence, telling Damon Wise in a recent Guardian interview, “We hit you hard, like a gut punch, and we make you react, but then we take you somewhere else”. He’s not interested in lingering gratuitously on gruesome details, rather he wants the audience reeling in the moment; part of the action. He succeeds beautifully and repeatedly.
The film works brilliantly in just about every area. The choregraphy is thrilling, the glorious palette comprised of hard blue crystal steel is utterly apt, the whip-smart, twisty narrative hooks and never short-changes, and the pulsing score by Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park – a band, incidentally, I could never stand) alternately complements, quickens and enhances in the right places. There’s even a dash of social commentary to provoke thought beyond the viscera.
However, when all is said and done, perhaps the reason I loved The Raid so much is a corollary of its simplicity: it reminded me of my favourite game as a kid (nostalgia is a powerful thing). Streets of Rage 2 on the Sega Mega Drive was a straightforward beat-em-up which employed a similarly skeletal plot and a climax of physical escalation combined with an onslaught of brutality. Next steps: Watch the following YouTube clip of the final level, then watch The Raid’s trailer, then go and watch the film, then come back and watch the hilariously violent cat/claymation video also included below (but don’t watch it unless you’ve seen the film, as it pretty much gives away the whole plot).
The Raid is in cinemas now, and for pure enjoyment, it’s the one to beat.