The Raid: Toronto Review

The Raid still - 2011
Ultra-violent action movies don’t get much more exciting or inventive than this kick-ass feature from Indonesia.

Director-screenwriter Gareth Huw Evans' action film from Indonesia will feature an entirely new score from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda for its U.S. release.

Audiences will be scrambling to find enough compound adjectives to describe Gareth Huw Evans hard-driving, butt-kicking, pulse-pounding, bone-crunching, skull-smashing, blood-curdling martial arts siege movie, The Raid. “Squeezing a trigger? That’s like ordering takeout,” scoffs one particularly psychotic killing machine when faced with the choice of using a gun or his lethal fists and feet. The director is similarly disdainful of swift execution, instead favoring the adrenaline rush of sustained pummeling.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions grabbed U.S. rights prior to Toronto and it was announced during the festival that Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park will compose an entirely new score for the film. While the addition of some nu-metal grit certainly won’t hurt, the movie is already plenty propulsive.

Welsh-born Evans turned heads with his 2009 feature, Merantau. He teams again here with the same breakout action star, Iko Uwais, marrying Western genre conventions with the traditional Indonesian kickboxing discipline of silat. The influence that most comes to mind is John Carpenter’s 1976 Assault on Precinct 13, albeit in a wildly amped-up homage. There’s perhaps also a touch of Big Trouble in Little China thrown in. Like Carpenter, Evans brings a sly sense of amusement to his mayhem.

In the opening scene, rookie cop Rama (Uwais) puts in time on his prayer rug and on his workout. Both are good insurance for the ordeal he is about to face. Kissing his pregnant wife, he heads out with a SWAT team on an ill-planned mission to bring down sadistic underworld kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who rules over a seedy population of thugs, criminals and junkies from his headquarters in a fortress-like Jakarta tenement block. While Evans has little use for character establishment, he introduces Tama calmly snacking on noodles before icing a lineup of bound-and-gagged rival gang members, playfully switching to a hammer when he’s out of bullets.

As soon as the cops get past the outer defense barriers Tama deploys his goon squad, as he monitors the entire building via closed-circuit surveillance cameras and a PA system. Most of the 20-member SWAT team are pulped before they know what hits them, leaving only a handful of men to weigh the choice of survival or the near-certain suicide of proceeding to the 15th floor to get the man they came for.

One of the few to escape the initial onslaught, Rama gets his wounded colleague to a relatively safe hiding place, endures a literal close shave with a machete and then single-handedly takes on dozens of would-be assassins, mostly unarmed. The liability of a crooked cop amongst the survivors is somewhat predictable, but there’s a more diverting wild card in the presence in Tama’s inner circle of Rama’s black-sheep brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah). As the body count mounts on both sides, the code of fraternal loyalty proves to be the one that matters.

For a movie with very little downtime, The Raid is remarkably well modulated in its succession of extended set pieces. Full of dynamic physical stunts and imaginative death blows, the movie balances moments of intense quiet with fresh crescendos of visceral violence. This kind of relentless noise and carnage can be numbing in less skilled hands, but Evans, who also handled the rapid-fire editing, brings elegance and imagination to the outrageously charged action, as well as unflagging energy.

In addition to Matt Flannery’s nervy, hyper-agile camerawork, Evans’ principal allies are his superb fight choreographers, Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. The latter also plays a stringy-haired killer who doles out the movie’s most vicious punishments, going up first against former Indonesian Judo champ Joe Taslim as another cop, and then squaring off against the brothers in a spectacularly ugly battle.

If Sony can find a way to steer the young male demographic into theaters to watch a subtitled Indonesian film, this could be quite a cult hit. Either way, it’s a calling card that will open a lot of doors for Evans.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions)
Production companies: PT Merantau Films in association with XYZ Films, Celluloid Nightmares
Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Ray Sahetapy, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Satrya
Director/screenwriter/editor: Gareth Huw Evans
Producer: Ario Sagantoro
Executive producer: Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, Irwan D. Musry, Nate Bolotin, Todd Brown
Directorof photography: Matt Flannery
Production designer: Moti D. Setyanto
Music: Fajar Yuskemal, Aria Prayogi
Fight choreographers: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian
Sales: Celluloid Nightmares
No rating, 100 minutes