Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Raid: the cult film of 2012

All the familiar motifs of the gangland thriller are apparent in The Raid: bent cops, badass thugs, a sadistic gangland boss, a sleazy urban background (in this case Jakarta in Indonesia) and a good, handsome cop who is going to do some serious kickboxing damage. The Welsh director, Gareth Evans, marries Indonesian pencack silat martial arts with Western genre conventions, referencing most obviously John Carpenter’s influential movie, Assault on Precinct 13. The Raid could have been a culturally muddled, clich├ęd mess. Instead it is a breathless, butt-kicking, pulse-pounding, skull-smashing two hours thrill ride like no other.

The action takes place in an architecturally brutal, decaying fifteen storey tenement. The top floor is occupied by a megalomaniac gangland boss, Tama, with the lower floors run by his thuggish minions. This block of flats is not a good advertisement for the utopian visions of high-rised, communal living.

A swat team, largely made up of rookie, inexperienced cops, arrives to clear the building floor by floor. When Tama gets wind of their presence, he orders a lockdown, sending in his own heavies and the building’s tenants to fight off this “infestation”. But it becomes clear that corrupt police and venal politicians also have a vested interest in maintaining these gangs. “We don’t kill cops, we buy them,” Tama points out.

At this point, the story takes flight into a kick ass orgy but one that is executed with real imagination and sly wit. The action is relentless - one bone-crunching set piece hurtling into the next, every sweaty scene building into fresh crescendos of carnage. The audience is grabbed by the lapels and thrown around by each increasingly outrageous fight scene. Evans’ kinetic editing and edgy, unpredictable camera work masterfully controls the material so that it does not slip into slapstick mayhem or macho camp. Every scene, every death blow is perfectly choreographed for a cathartic release and adrenalin rush. The audience audibly winces and groans with every decapitation and body blow. In Evans’ hands, the logarithms of violence become attitudes of elegance.

No one will remember The Raid for the character development or narrative subtleties or fizzing dialogue. They won’t remember The Raid for these things because they don’t exist. The Raid is not a sophisticated film which prevents it from being a great film. But what you will remember this film for are set pieces of such physical dynamism and visceral artistry that you are left breathless. The Raid is a lean, mean, muscular fighting machine without an ounce of visual fat.

The Raid is quickly turning into a word of mouth cult film. It will be interesting to see if Gareth Evans can now move from the periphery of film making and establish a more mainstream position without losing those qualities that make The Raid such vivid and riveting entertainment. If he does, then the action movie has a future.

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