The Raid (2012)
Talking of action movies and doing something a little bit different, if you'd suggested to me that I would be most impressed, action-wise, by an Indonesian martial arts survival thriller at the start of this year, I probably would have laughed at you. Anything is possible, I guess, and such is the case with The Raid. Reaching our shores last week after doing the festival tour, this actioner is all of the things that Safe was not. It's not safe, for starters. Jason Statham's vehicle was too much 'by-the-numbers', too much of what we're already used to and bored by. The Raid is a different kind of animal entirely. There are similar elements, but put together, this is riveting stuff.
Helmed by Welsh Director Gareth Evans and also scribed by him, The Raid is a couple of hours in a dilapidated old apartment building you wouldn't think out of place in New Jack City or REC, even. Mainly involving itself with the location and capture of a drug and crime baron on the outskirts of Jakarta, The Raid is a washed out, bloodthirsty feast for the martial arts junkie.
Starring a host of virtual unknowns (especially to Western onlookers) Evans has managed to meld together a happy go-between of story (limited, but nonetheless heartfelt and honest) and action. Granted the vast majority of the film is taken up by the latter, with only moments of calm that allow for the former (and for the audience to get their collective breath back).
Firstly, the story-telling is simple. It needs to be as despite its partial importance to the film, it is really playing second fiddle to the action. The story is there and the character arcs are also just about evident, but Evans knows why you've turned up for this party and he knows you're looking for trouble. And by crikey, are you going to get it. Concentrating on the fight sequences, they are fast and deadly, mostly single shot examples of a lesser known traditional Indonesian martial art called Pencak Silat. It's a furiously speedy no-holds barred form of fighting that doesn't mind using the environment to eke out its mighty justice. Anything that comes to hand is useful, be it a gun, knife, wardrobe, axe, chair - you name it, really.
The camera gets in close and personal, and often at unusually cunning angles. The effects of this are almost physically offensive on the senses, putting the viewer right into the heart of the action, which may be disorientating for some. At times, the whole movie reminded me of a hybrid of The Matrix and Silent Hill. Lots of hand to hand combat with clever physical touches, yet wandering around a building, opening doors, worrying just what the hell you may be walking into. In terms of tone and actual style, it is neither of these, of course, unable to boast the production values of either on a budget of just over a million dollars. It is much grittier, both on screen and in intent. The visual are kept to a minimum, even the bloodletting is not a gaudy scarlet, with Evans choosing to tone down an entertainment quotient in favour of a realism bonus.
In all, an impressive piece of work from Evans and the entire cast that, when all said and done, is all about the fighting. It didn't really need a story to hang it all together, though it got one of sorts. The same audience that watched Safe will also see this and will be now forced to wonder just what Statham has been doing all these years...