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Raid, The: Redemption

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 02/10/12 21:37:16

"Kicking and Screaming (and Punching and Shooting and Stabbing)"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2012 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: The set-up is simple: a van full of cops is going to raid a building full of criminals, quickly and quietly, out of hopes of taking down the kingpin upstairs once and for all.

The Raid is all business like that. The first shot of the film gives us a watch and a gun – in essence, a ticking clock and one of many means by which to end meanies. Chances are that anyone sitting down to watch this is already familiar with the ass-kicking abilities star Iko Uwais from director Gareth Evans’ previous film, Merantau, and even if they haven’t, we’re swiftly introduced to his Officer Rama kissing his pregnant wife goodbye before heading out on the aforementioned mission. That alone seals the deal – this guy is our hero, and while he’s not invincible, he’ll certainly put up one hell of a fight.

If Rama is the good guy, then Tama (Ray Sahetapy) is the big baddie, with two chief henchmen by his side: Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). That’s not the kicker, though. The reason that our police force must use extreme discretion is due to Tama harboring fifteen floors’ worth of crooks and thugs at his estate, all of whom will turn into a fighting force at his disposal should the need ever arise. Let me assure you that it soon does, and from that moment on, Evans and company scarcely let up as the remaining cops are forced to fend off countless criminals in the name of pure survival.

Men on both sides – it’s worth nothing that there is hardly an XX-chromosome in sight, save for one sensible tenant’s sick wife – arm themselves with handguns, knives, sniper rifles, grenades, axes, gas tanks, machetes and somehow more before ultimately settling for their bare hands (though some, like Mad Dog, prefer it that way in the first place: "This is the thing... This is what I do."). Although the team blitzes through the first couple of floors at the outset, all rooms and hallways shown boast a critically grungy set design, complete with plenty of furniture, filing cabinets, drug labs, windows and walls against or through which foes can be thrown.

A vital sense of geography becomes apparent as Rama and others split up, fight back and occasionally retreat, and each scrap lends itself to a distinct setting or style. Most rooms are grimy, some neon-tinted and one’s even a walk-in freezer if memory serves correctly. (I haven’t the foggiest what this building must have been prior to its new landlord taking over.) The choreography is never less than convincing, the momentum rarely less than masterful; in serving as his own editor, Evans respects the rhythm of the individual stunts as well as the greater sense of pacing, and the camera is almost as fluid as the fighters, pushing in as they punch away and often pivoting on a dime from an overhead view of the mayhem. Even better are the palpably tense moments when discretion proves every bit as necessary as the full-on assaults are. One scene involving a machete and a crawlspace isn’t just suspenseful, but also populated with small-yet-smart gestures that inform the picture overall.

It would all be for naught if his entire cast wasn’t already masterfully trained to duke it out. Although it’s easy to spotlight just Uwais’ remarkable physical agility and sheer force due to the prominence of his role, there isn’t anyone around who makes taking a hit or kick of his look easy. Credit is due as well to the sound team for ensuring that every encounter is backed with the proper cracks, snaps, shots and grunts. In a film this unrelenting, it’s not uncommon for ostensibly painful encounters to settle into a numbing monotony, and though matters do admittedly come close to that tipping point – while a second-act lull is needed to escalate the stakes, the mission’s single-setting scale never wavers – the violence in the final fight seems every bit as visceral as that of the first. No small feat, that.

Add to the mix a propulsive score not unlike that for 'District B13' and an unspoken, unwinking reverence to claustrophobic melees of the ‘70s and ‘80s – a bit of 'Assault on Precinct 13' here, a touch of 'The Warriors' there – and you have yourself one fiercely entertaining action film. 'The Raid' makes a tremendous case for the pure might of martial arts; it simultaneously sates an audience’s inherent bloodlust; and it pulls off a modern action story with minimal exposition and digital trickery. It’s plain, it’s simple, and it fucking rocks.

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