There are action films, and then there is The Raid.
Following a huge splash making debut at Sundance earlier this year (as well as TIFF, late last year), the Indonesian import has finally made its way to Austin for SXSW 2012, and the waves are just continuing their flow leading towards its theatrical release. This time, playing with a brand new score from Linkin Parker Mike Shinoda and co-composer Joe Trapanese and a new title thanks to distributors Sony Pictures Classics, The Raid: Redemption may not feature any of the latter, but Lord striketh this writer down if there isn’t one hell of a raid involved.
The Raid isn’t dense on plot. Following a group of police officers who must make their way story by story, level by level, of a housing tenement housing thugs, mobsters, drug dealers, and all kinds of scum, the film is quite possibly the greatest action film this young decade has seen, and it’s not because of any elaborate explosions or inventive special effects. Using brutal fight choreography and an unflinching camera, director Gareth Evans has crafted a narrative driven on tension, and fight sequences that will go down in cinematic history books as some of the most visceral that this generation has ever seen.
Structurally, The Raid has its closest kin outside of the film world. Playing out as if it were almost a video game, the film doesn’t strive on an elaborate premise, or anything shockingly intellectual. Boss-type battles are scattered throughout this film, with our lead going, for all intents and purposes, room-by-room, beating the ever living hell out of waves of goons, all with the panache and smoothness of a ballet dancer pirouetting on top of a man’s face.
The pair of director Evans and star Iko Uwais are the film’s biggest stars. Uwais is a breakout action star thanks to this film, and more importantly, thanks to the film’s choreography and directorial geography. The opening act has some directorial issues, primarily the over use of disorienting and poorly crafted hand held camera, but otherwise, each set piece is put together with so much love and care that you can tell everyone involved worked on this for quite some time. Like a good piece of poetry, the moves are lyrical and moving, or at least as moving as the brutally bloody death of a nameless goon can be. Uwais gives his role a killer sense of physicality, again attributed to his willingness to go all out with the set pieces, and is paired brilliantly with baddies Mad Dog and Andi (played by Doni Alamsyah and Yayan Ruhian respectively), making for, again, some of the greatest set pieces in years.
The film isn’t without flaw, however. Hampered by a collection of odd choices both narratively and editorially (there is a major final boss battle that is interrupted abruptly, taking a lot of momentum away from what truly is, for all intents and purposes, the greatest fight in maybe two decades) the film is both viscerally wicked, as well as wickedly frustrating. Shinoda’s score is indeed great, but a bit derivative in spots, and again, the opening act is nearly unraveled by odd pacing, weirdly percussive editing, and a camera that is both shockingly flinch-prone and incomprehensible scatterbrained.
However, those are simply nitpicks, when taken in this context. A film that will leave you concussed in the aisle of your local Cineplex, The Raid: Redemption is a film that is beautifully bloody and bloody beautiful. Featuring all-time great fight choreography and overall sequences, 2012 may have just seen its best action film.