By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 22, 2012 at 10:09AM
A film that's already developing a cult following, even though it's only commercial exhibits have been on the film festival circuit, starting with a 2011 Toronto Film Festival debut (it's now a Sony Pictures property, scheduled for a US and Indonesia release in March of this year), The Raid turned out to be exactly as others who'd already seen it, universally described it: a relentless, bloody, brutal action movie, with successive scene after scene of balls-to-the-wall-style choreographed violence that made even this writer flinch in a few instances.
I'd heard about the violence, but I wasn't prepared for just how *real* it looks and feels. It's not that cartoonish kind of violence; and unlike some other similar films that shield you from crucial deathblow/fatalities, the camera doesn't turn away in this one. It shows you everything, and often in close-up: pistols blowing up skulls, knives and other sharp objects rammed into necks, or dicing up torsos, with the red stuff definitely not in short supply, and more.
A film like this seems out of place at a festival like Sundance, known more for films with an unmistakable indie flair, and everything we've come to associate with films that fall under that umbrella. But it's here (although not in competition) with purpose, and I'd say is proving to be successful in accomplishing what it set out to here in Park City: further generate buzz and anticipation for its theatrical release in less than 2 months.
The story in short: an elite SWAT team is tasked with raiding a slum building in Jarkarta, Indonesia, that has become a sanctuary to killers, gangs, rapists and thieves seeking accommodation in the one place they know they can't be touched by the police, and removing its owner, a notorious drug lord. But when a spotter blows their cover, and news of their arrival reaches the drug lord, who manages the entire building from the top floor with video cameras eyeing every hallway, the hunters become the hunted, as the team must fight their way through every floor and room not just to complete their mission, but to survive their bloody ordeal, and just make it out of the building.
And there's your setup; Indonesian police storming a drug lord's apartment fortress. It's a rather simple plot, and all very predictable, but it's also quite exhilarating. Director Gareth Evans is able to squeeze as much life out of that premise as possible, and I'd say he succeeds for the most part, without hammering the audience to death with all those action set pieces.
Although I'd also add that I found it all very exhausting after about 90 minutes or so, especially as the sequences began to lose that initial realism I mentioned, and started to veer into cartoon territory. I started to laugh more than I flinched.
It's really just one action set piece after another, as both sides of this fight try to stay one-step ahead of the other, the action moving north, from floor to floor, bodies disposed of on each (the SWAT team's as well as the baddies), with the drug lord's operation station at the top of the building the eventual goal. Obviously, most of them won't make it; and by the end of the film, after an expected showdown of will and skill, a fraction of the number of characters the film started with, remain.
But there are moments of quiet scattered about, giving the audience, and the cast, some respite to balance all that bedlam - although a mostly well-choreographed, paced, stylish, visceral kind of bedlam.
Production values are high, and the film moves along quite briskly, and energetically, thanks in part to director Evans' active camera, rapid-fire editing and dialogue. And while that kind of persistent clamor could quickly become tiring (as it did for me, but during the last act), Evans demonstrates just enough restraint to prevent the film from going into Michael Bay-style excess territory.
The Raid is a relentless, bone-crunching, stylish piece of *performance art*, if I can call it that, that delivers for the most part, in terms of maximum thrills, and its target audience will most certainly appreciate the bloody rounds of pandemonium it delivers.
Word is that an American remake is planned; no surprise there.