Is story really that important? Sure, in many films it’s absolutely essential, but there are some where it’s of secondary concern or even of no concern at all. There are surrealist films in which you’d be pushed to find anything resembling story whatsoever. Whilst The Raid isn’t quite to that extent, it definitely does sacrifice narrative, although when it’s in favour of unbelievable kick-your-face-off action scenes, it’s a little more forgivable.
There is some story, however. A team of elite police officers, including rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), is sent to infiltrate a tower block to take down crime kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy) but to do so they must fight their way through several floors of dangerous henchmen armed with guns, machetes and deadly martial arts skills. However, things are complicated somewhat by the fact that Rama’s brother has cemented himself as one of Tama’s right hand men.
There’s little point in discussing the plot (writer/director Gareth Evans clearly didn’t when making the film), but that’s not the reason you watch The Raid. If it is, you’ll be sorely disappointed. No, you watch it for its quite stunning martial arts and action sequences. Pretty much from the word go the action is relentless, rarely letting up for more than a couple of minutes at a time. There are shoot outs, knife fights and incredible hand-to-hand combat, particularly from Uwais and villain Yayan Ruhian. The martial arts scenes are beautifully choreographed, balletic at times, often incorporating several participants at once. They are also shot in a way that lets you fully appreciate them. Similar films may use quick and disorientating editing, Evans and his cinematographer Matt Flannery hold those shots that little bit longer, allowing you to see more of the action and realise just how intricate it is.
It’s no surprise, then, that the film is also very violent. You never have to wait long before someone gets their throat slit or their neck broken, and there are plenty of moments that will make you physically wince and recoil. It works though; whereas excessive violence in a film such as Lawless can start to feel a little out of place, it fits perfectly with the tone of The Raid and it would probably be a poorer film without it.
It can get to a point, however, when the action can be a little too overwhelming and you long for a bit of respite. Perhaps that was the intention of the filmmakers, to give make the viewers feel the same relentlessness as the characters, but there are times where a little extra dialogue and some more focus on the story wouldn’t go amiss. The film rocks in at just over an hour and a half and that feels just about right; any longer and the fight scenes would lose their impact and the viewers’ interest.
A sequel (as well as a Hollywood remake, bah) is planned, which will need to up its game if it wants to have the same impact as The Raid. It must have a more engaging and focused story if it’s to repeat its success; The Raid’s minimal plot struggles to keep on track and it’s not long before you realise you don’t really care about it and are just waiting for the next punch to the windpipe. For example, the initial focus of the plot is on the police trying to fight their way to the top of the building and take down the bad guy. However, towards the end of the film, that part of the plot seems almost secondary and it’s the relationship between Rama and his brother that is most interesting. It’s actually a preferable ending that way but the way it’s handled does marginalise the role of others that were previously built up, namely Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) and his shady involvement in the operations; by the end you simply don’t care about him.
The Raid may well be a case of style over substance, but sometimes that really doesn’t matter. It’s fast, it’s frantic and, most of all, it’s fun, which is exactly what a good action film should be.
A quick word on the Blu-ray release: The overall picture quality of the UK release is really rather disappointing. Whilst at times it does look great, it’s all too often rather muddy and lacks the clarity one would expect. It is, however, laced with extras, including a director’s commentary, video blogs, short film Claycats, and a variety of interviews and other interesting features. The film itself could have looked spectacular with decent Blu-ray production but there are times when it looks no better than DVD quality.
Words: Chris Thomson