Published Mar 22, 2012Building from 2009's Merantau, which was essentially the introduction of Indonesian cinema to North American audiences, writer/director Gareth Evans re-teams with star Iko Uwais for this similarly late blooming, but ultimately invigorating, police drama/martial arts action picture.
To be clear, it's the gracefully choreographed, exceptionally nimble martial arts sequences that are invigorating, not the hackneyed dirty cop and familial estrangement angles of the plot, serving as an excuse for the carnage.
After a brief morning training ritual demonstrates the fist-blurring speed of Rama (Uwais), the young SWAT member kisses his pregnant wife goodbye before meeting up with his team for a strike on a building infested with criminals. The territory is controlled by merciless drug lord Tama (you know he's not the understanding type after seeing him paint the floor with the brains of a bunch of bound and gagged henchmen, electing to switch to a hammer rather than reload his gun).
For a building generally deemed too dangerous for the police to bother with due to the community of junkies, pushers and vicious enforcers all too eager to shank for a taste, the task force, assembled by a senior officer with a vendetta against Tama, has a heck of an easy time getting in, then up to the fifth floor. That's when the trap is sprung and the action starts, but not when The Raid becomes a film worth watching.
Most of the action up to the midway point is structured and shot like cheaper-looking versions of typical Hollywood action filler: slow-motion bullets, testosterone-driven outbursts, professionals acting like amateurs, excessive and impractical gunfire, and cartoonish villains. Then, after nearly all the cops are wiped out and Rama has run out of bullets, the suggestions that Iko Uwai could be the next Tony Jaa start to make sense.
Rama becomes a total badass, but not the invincible type, taking a hefty beating while dishing out stunning displays of physical prowess. Armed with a knife and a baton, he strikes like a scorpion tail grafted to a hummingbird wing. The CGI blood spurts look unrealistic, but the increasingly complex fight sequences utilizing the Indonesian fighting style of silat are wowing enough to distract from the technical and scripting shortcomings.
Evans does employ a few cool techniques after ditching the cheap John Woo shots (doves not included). As Rama loses equilibrium, so does the camera; it's the kind of minor detail attended to in the back half of the film that further demonstrates the strange divide in creativity holding The Raid back from being solid action escapism.
If martial arts flicks are your bag, plot isn't a deal breaker, so spend the first half of this one doing jaw exercises so you're ready when it hits the floor in the home stretch. (Alliance)