The final credits roll, listing characters such as “Hole Drop Attacker” and “Machete Gang Member,” only hints at the level of mayhem in Gareth Huw Evans’ “The Raid.” Indeed, moviegoers may wish the projectionist could replay some of the spectacular sequences in this incredible and incredibly violent cop-vs.-gangster fight-athon, in which a SWAT-like unit invades a 15-story building and has to get to the top, floor by floor, to bring down the bad guy. Taking the genre to a higher level of intensity, the Welsh-born Evans continues what he started in previous Indonesia-set actioner “Merantau,” but this pic will seal his cult status.
As efficient as its title indicates, “The Raid” offers a continuous sequence of action with a clear and effective premise: If police can get to the top floor, they have a chance to bring down major drug kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Complicating matters is the fact that many cops in the unit are inexperienced in the brand of intense urban combat demanded here, and that their corrupt boss, Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), may compromise the entire operation. That’s about as much plot as the movie is concerned with, or needs.
Hard-ass cop Rama (Iko Uwais, “Merantau,” in a star-making role) is clean as a whistle and tenacious as a bulldozer. Within minutes of silently penetrating the building’s interior (the effect reinforced by total silence on a soundtrack that otherwise delivers huge punches of pure, sonic energy), Rama’s men come under assault by Tama’s strategically placed units, including prepubescent spotters and endless supplies of dudes with heavy machine guns.
Tama observes everything on a large bank of monitors in his control room, aided by his ruthless henchmen Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). Tama is also able to deliver messages over the building’s PA system, so that everyone can hear his message, “We have visitors.”
It’s the cue for all-out war. The ensuing 90 minutes are largely a hand-to-hand, fist-to-face, foot-to-groin battle, with a few machetes and guns tossed in for good measure. Pic manages to create the sensation of a kind of live-action ride, where Evans as conductor modulates the rise and fall of action, and alternates pace and volume, with selected interludes of story to catch one’s breath. The effect is exhilarating for viewers open to the sheer visceral sensation of the physical experience, regardless of one’s predilection toward fight pics. Still, there’s more than enough close-up, flesh-ripping violence to make even hardened viewers wince.
The pic’s combat style, silat, is an Indonesian martial-arts form that’s a more brawling kind of fighting than more widely known styles. Think of it as the NFL taking over kung fu, but a whole lot nastier, with the action getting wilder the floors — and the casualties in Rama’s forces — mount.
It’s easy to forget the story altogether in the sheer rush of Rama’s fight to the top floor; instead, viewers will wonder how the amazing battle that just ended could possibly be topped. But it is, again and again. A five-minute battle that features flying, snapping body parts particularly displays the elegance in the fight choreography by Evans, Uwais and Ruhian. More than most martial-arts pics, “The Raid” recalls the structure of a movie musical, in which a simple storyline bridges the numbers and sequences.
Ultimately, there’s enough to one of the pic’s side stories (involving brothers on opposite sides of the battle) that, taken in tandem with righting the wrong of political corruption, allows things to end on a dramatically satisfying note.
Moti D. Setyanto’s terrific production design depicts the interiors of this building as a perpetual maze, both vertically and horizontally. It’s not surprising the project took two lensers (Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono), since the camera often appears to defy gravity in a quest to get fresh angles on the battle. Technically, the pic’s in a league by itself among Indonesian films.
Following this pic’s first Toronto screening, producers announced the soundtrack will be entirely revised by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. Though it may add a commercial kick to the film, it does seem curious in light of the brilliant soundtrack on display at the screening reviewed.