In the heart of Jakarta lies a rundown apartment infested with druggies and drifters. It’s ruled by a ruthless drug lord who uses the tenement to shelter his junkie customers, pushers, enforcers and brutal killers. The apartment block is considered untouchable by even the bravest of police—until one early morning when, cloaked under dawn’s dark¬ness, an elite SWAT team, led by officer Rama (Iko Uwais), raids the peril-filled structure. As Rama’s squad races between the maze of rooms and floors, encountering a barrage of gunfire, machetes, and ruthless hand-to-hand combat around every corner, the stakes get higher and higher building to an explosive crescendo and an ultimate battle.
Welsh-born/Indonesian-based director Gareth Evans really takes his cast to hell and back in The Raid. Recalling John McTiernan’s 'trapped-indoors’ classic Die Hard in both its simple narrative and game-changing action, this relentless ear-splitter is so amped-up that one entirely forgets the paper-thin plotting and preposterous twists, leaving behind just a pure adrenaline rush.
A team of SWAT police specialists, led by Jaka (Joe Taslim), target a filthy Jarkatan apartment block housing criminal overlord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and his henchmen Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). Once inside, the tables are turned by Tama, who’s wired the building with a complex surveillance system allowing him to command its tenants with an iron fist to do his violent bidding.
The young police unit, many seeing action for the first time, become separated. Jaka is paired up with his corrupt senior, Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), while 2IC Rama (Iko Uwais) is burdened with an injured colleague and left to fend for himself in the corridors, stairwells and crawlspaces. With the potential for machine gun fire, machete attacks or martial arts beat downs behind every door, the remaining cops decide that offense is the best defence and head to Tama’s penthouse lair to shut the operation down and get out alive.
Evans learnt much about the country’s distinct martial artistry while directing Land of Moving Shadows, a documentary about the origins of Pencak Silat, Indonesia’s unique hand-to-hand combat style. His next film, the well-received Merantau, featured West Sumatra’s Pencak Silat variation Silat Harimau (Tiger-style Silat). This training ground paid dividends in Evans’ framing of The Raid’s bone-cracking conflicts; though heavily-armoured, the film’s key heroes and villains face-off in brutal bouts, with knees, elbows and feet proving every bit as lethal as knives and bullets. (Don’t worry, kids, there’s plenty of steel-on-skin action, too.)
The technical support is superb; Joseph Trapanese and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoba’s pulsating soundtrack recalls John Carpenter’s music in his own single-setting classics, The Thing and Assault of Precinct 13. And the unit’s set-design and production team succeeded in making the abandoned real-life tenement block and perfectly-integrated studio shots suitably foreboding.
One drawback to all the carnage, though, is it becomes a bit one-note after a while. The film peaks at about the halfway point following an intensely immersive rearguard firefight by Jaka, Rama and his surviving team members; the first chop-socky sequence, where Rama faces a wave of frenzied attackers, is bloody mayhem par excellence. It’s exhilarating, but Evans leaves himself nowhere to go; subsequent beat-ups employ much the same stunt choreography, sound design and directorial tricks.
It’s really only a minor criticism if the worse you can say about an action film is that it sets the bar too high for itself. Other liabilities, like hammy acting, a coincidental third-act twist, and a reliance on action film tropes, are regrettable but forgivable in light of Evan’s vibrant staging.