I didn’t know there was an Indonesian martial art that involved grabbing people by the legs and swinging them into walls face-first, but now that I do, I am eager to see more of it.
The Raid (released in the U.S. as “The Raid: Redemption” as apparently Sony couldn’t get the rights to just “The Raid”) is a slam-bang action film that is in many ways, similar to another film that was released this year, Dredd. But, as with Deep Impact and Armageddon or Volcano and Dante’s Peak, there are distinctions that give both films distinct atmospheres and styles. In this case, they each bring their own brand of pleasure. (For the record, Dredd was in development first, but released second.) Both films are well-made and both involve a trek through a locked-down building to get a bad guy. For The Raid, the protagonists are members of a highly weaponized SWAT team, most of whom are rookies.
Where they begin to differ is that while Dredd is a post-apocalyptic shoot-em up with a lot of good character work, The Raid is more streamlined and has a much greater reliance on chop-socky film tropes over the course of its run time. Like most films of that ilk, there of course comes a point where two characters put down their weapons to face each other in hand-to-hand combat, but for a lot of the run time, the fighting is brutal and decisive.
I can not use the word brutal enough. As people are stabbed, shot in the head or, in the case of one henchman, have their skull slammed repeatedly into a wall that it’s sliding down, the action looks absolutely painful and the characters use whatever is nearby to inflict said pain. With little exception, the characters do not look like they are in a violent ballet, but are actually trying to take down their enemies in the most effective way possible. As such, guns, knives, machete and the dank building itself are used to maim and kill. In many ways, the building in The Raid is a character in and of itself, much the way the self-referential ‘block’ of Attack the Block was.
While I’m sure that CGI is used to enhance the bloodshed, I was truly impressed by its measured and quality application. Not only is the execution some of the best I’ve seen, it shows just how awful the fakey “pops” in the much-higher budgeted Expendables were. It just goes to show how many foreign genre films are using their budgets better than Hollywood and how good a lot of smaller effects houses are becoming.
If there’s one place that the film fails, it’s in characterization. Through character shorthand, we learn about the most base motivations of a handful of the characters, but for the most part, Welsh director Gareth Evans seems to have tunnel vision upon upping the carnage. In that respect he succeeds as he pretty much remakes the Omaha Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan within the confines of a stairwell and an apartment. But afterwards, while there are certainly some short pauses to allow the audience to catch their breath, there’s not much revelation of who these people are that are beating the living hell out of each other. Whether that is due to a thin script or overzealous (but effective) editing, I do not know.
The good news is, while it’s missing the kind of needed character content that makes films like Die Hard true classics that transcend their limitations, it contains enough visceral thrills and inventiveness to make a hardened action film fan say, “OOOOOH, DAYUM!” It’s a more than entertaining hour forty-four for the kind of people that enjoy “that sort of thing.” Like me.
(Three and a half damns out of five)