I’ve seen The Raid (*) twice now. It’s the best action film I’ve seen in years and years.
I tried to write a conventional review for The Raid. I really did. But, after staring at a blank screen for more minutes than I’d like to admit, I realized that trying something different for this particular piece would be better.
So, here we are. In five points, I’m going to tell you why it would be a really bad idea to not go and see the new film from director Gareth Evans.
1. It’s a simple story, well told.
Just because something’s not path-breaking doesn’t mean it’s not a path worth treading on.
The Raid‘s plot has been done before. There’s no denying that. But to deny the very existence of a plot is blasé, reductive and blatantly untrue. If anything, I enjoyed the storytelling. It’s done with an economy that’s skilful; it’s presented with clarity that’s gratifying and it’s propulsive in a way that irrevocably cements how evenly and expertly the movie’s paced.
I look at The Raid and what I see is how simply and effectively it sets up the stakes (with a villain who’s worthy of joining the pantheon), outlines different characters (giving almost all of them identifiable tics) and chooses when to bring out the reveals.
What I don’t see is a plotless and empty action extravaganza.
2. It has a great lead performance.
A big reason the film doesn’t resemble an empty action extravaganza, I guess, is because it’s anchored by a great central performance from Iko Uwais.
IMDb tells me that Iko is a martial arts fighter first and an actor second. While looking at The Raid won’t dispel that notion, it won’t do so because Iko is a mediocre actor but because he is just that good at martial arts.
The film opens with Iko’s character, rookie cop Rama. We see him exercising, talking to his pregnant wife and having a word with his father. In those few minutes, Iko quickly paints Rama as an earnest and likable figure, something that only increases as the plot progresses.
And the film greatly benefits from that. It’s because we are rooting for Rama right from the start of the film and are invested in his fate that when the carnage is unleashed later on, it has such impact.
3. It’s an action masterpiece.
Here’s where I bring out the big guns: The Raid features the best action sequences I’ve seen in any motion picture in a long, long time.
They are engaging without resorting to cheap thrills. They are brutal without being exploitative. They are varied, even though there are at least a dozen of them in the movie. They are inventive and there’s a constant sense of upping the ante here that’s masterful.
They are shot with a sense of kinetic energy that’s thrilling and yet they never compromise on coherence, something way too many recent action films have failed to do. For a movie that’s set inside a single apartment complex, there’s a clean sense of geography to the various action sequences that’s beautiful. An extended segment of the movie features the protagonists moving up and down a few floors while trying to avoid the antagonists and it’s one of the most memorable bits of visual storytelling I’ve seen recently.
In one 100min lesson, Gareth Evans schools just about every director working in action today, from Michael Bay to Christopher Nolan. And it’s a very enjoyable lesson.
4. It’s an aural feast.
When Sony picked up US distribution rights of The Raid, they discarded the original Indonesian score and tasked Mike Shinoda (he of Linkin Park) and Joseph Trapanese to come up with a new one. The version of the film with their score is the one I’ve seen twice and I’m not sure if I’d want to see any other…ever.
The score is (for lack of a more formal and authoritative word) awesome. After my first screening ended, a common sentiment among everyone present was that they were going to go home and download the score. It’s been a week since I first saw the film and I still hum bits from it occasionally. What’s noteworthy is that the music often corresponds to the actual, physical beats of the action scene and, yes, it’s just as effective as you’d think. (**)
But it’s not just the score that works in the film’s audio department. The sound editing and mixing are exemplary too. For example, in the last fight scene in the movie, a few bones go thwack and it’s the single most satisfying sound effect I’ve heard in quite some time.
The Raid will pump adrenaline into your bloodstream, yes, but it will sound excellent while doing so.
5. It’s so good it holds up on repeat viewings.
Now, I realize this may be a bit of a cheat since, technically, I’m here making a point that you should be watching the film again when I probably haven’t even convinced you to watch it once. But this is my list and I feel this point, in a way, actually strengthens my argument. So, be patient.
After I saw The Raid for the first time, I had a nagging feeling that it’s a film that wouldn’t hold up well on repeat viewings since a lot of its appeal was the tension and suspense over who would get out alive, things that would completely dissipate once I saw the film knowing how it would end.
Thankfully, I was wrong. The second time around, I was actually more impressed by the craftsmanship and technique that Evans and his extremely talented cast and crew display here. When the climactic showdown ended I was still left just as satisfied and happy as I had been the first time around. And I’m so glad the film actually works even without the trump card of suspense because that shows how powerful the entire endeavor is.
I love The Raid. Going by US release dates, it’s the best 2012 film I have seen so far. I have seen it twice in a week and I’m already making plans to go again on the weekend, this time with friends.
You should see it too.
(*) The US title stinks, which is why we’ll behave as if it doesn’t exist.
(**) That is one of the many reasons why Hans Zimmer’s score for the first Pirates is such a joy.