The Raid is not just any action movie “ it’s a rare and curious thing, being an Indonesian movie directed by a Welshman (Gareth Evans). Its premise is simple “ a SWAT team are sent to a derelict apartment building in Jakarta where a notorious drugs baron, Tama has set up his HQ. Seemingly untouchable by the police, the block has become a haven for all manner of undesirables, killers and gangsters. But the aim is to change all that; to go in, clean up and take out Tama.
At first, things go according to plan as the team, including the protagonist Rama (Iko Uwais) systematically go through the lower floors. We can tell Rama is the protagonist, as he has a wife and baby who he tells he loves before he leaves home. This also tells us he must be a Good Guy we ought to be rooting for. Drug lord Tama is shown towards the start executing enemies without mercy, and when he runs out of bullets he finishes off the last one with a hammer, rather than reloading. This makes it clear he is a Bad Guy, and we should be rooting against him (there will be no time for moral ambiguity in this film). This is pretty much the full extent of the characterisation. None of the other characters are even given the courtesy of having personalities even sketched in.
As the SWAT team climb the floors, the alarm is sounded and everything goes wrong. Tama goes on the intercom offering free bed and board for life to anyone who helps take out the cops and the SWAT team quickly find themselves isolated, surrounded and with no possibility of backup arriving. As the team are picked off one by one, it’s left to Rama and a few others to find some way to complete the mission and get out alive
Surviving is not going to be easy, now there is a swarm of bloodthirsty, armed to the teeth gangsters flooding the corridors and stairwells of the block. Inevitably, there are confrontations. Lots of confrontations, whether it be with fists, knives, guns or other improvised weapons. I cannot really stress too much just how many fight scenes there are in this movie. Much of the choreography of these scenes is extremely impressive “ with fast paced, extraordinary mixed martial fights a highlight. The Raid is an assault on the senses; there’s a genuinely visceral feeling to the huge fight scenes. The tension and claustrophobia of the apartment building is nicely handled too “ setting the action in a single location reminiscent of Die Hard.
So speaking of Die Hard, how does The Raid compare to the genre classics? Well, the action scenes are up there with the best of them, but there are far too many of them. And anyway, for me, those films rarely stand out for their actions scenes, but instead for their memorable characters “ John McClane, Martin Riggs, Ellen Ripley. The Raid utterly lacks characters to care about, and any kind of wit “ there are no funny lines, no levity to break up the relentless violence or provide comic relief. Rama’s wife and child are the reason we are given to care about him, but it’s simply not enough. I’d have been happy for the whole SWAT team to have been wiped out if it had shaved half an hour off the running time (and if the director could have resisted the temptation to have them all stabbed in the neck front centre of shot, then even better).
The problem with The Raid is that it has nothing going for it but its action scenes. Many of these are spectacular, but they take up far too high a percentage of the film, which might have been better served adding a bit of plot or characterisation. To be honest, I found the brutality gratuitous and, after a while, just plain wearing. In the end, it felt like a test of just how much violence you can endure in a single movie. If your answer is Lots! And with pleasure! then you’ll love this. But personally, I don’t see the point.