Welsh director Gareth Evans brings together the greatest exponents of the martial art Pencak Silat in this devastating movie. Set in a high rise tenement building some 30 floors high, The Raid follows an elite police team as they attempt to reclaim the block from the hands of a crime lord who uses the building as the centre of his operation.
After introductions to the key players we are treated to a series of set pieces as the police rise floor by floor through the building losing men along the way but at each level facing new challenges and attacks. Each set piece is aggressive, violent and inventive but the real skill of this movie comes in the way the fights are arranged, choreographed and executed.
The martial art chosen by Evans here is the traditional one of Indonesia, where the film was also financed and shot, and is characterised by a fast unflinching style in which attacking and blocking strokes are traded with increasing ferocity. Ingenuity comes in a Bourne style as traditional weapons are used along side fridges, water bottles, furniture and any other object to hand. It is testament to the creativity of the team here that scenes keep throwing in surprises and shocks even as the film reaches it’s third act.
This is not to say that The Raid is just a series of fights. The human story that underpins the action is intelligently dealt with and numerous stories, from the disillusioned police officer to the power struggle of the sons of the crime lord are handled intelligently and sensitively and more importantly serve to underpin the action sequences and give some subtext and even to bring you closer to the men you are watching. A movie as packed full of violence as this could have become incredibly dull after the opening sequences but the investment in the characters allows the viewer to get pulled into the action and root for the protagonists.
The acting abilities of the cast are not quite as strong as their ass-kicking skills but performances by Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim and Yayan Ruhian stand out as being above the rest of the crop. A sequence in the wall of the building is dripping in tension and timed superbly by Evans brings an exhilaration even into the moments of quiet.
As far as action movies go The Raid is a bar setter. Evans has raised the creativity, power and speed of the action movie a long way above his experience and the limited budget. To couple that with the ability to tell a simple story well and to engage the audience with characters and allow for moments of calm it is a challenge to the American studios, a call to them to make better more exciting action. It seems unlikely they will notice, or listen, intent as they are already to do an American language remake.