I should feel like shit for seeing this film: not because it’s badly made, morally reprehensible in its funding or any such external error but simply because I spent yesterday seeing and singing the praises of its exact political polar opposite in The Hunger Games. Where I was stringent in my attempts to explain how that film wasn’t supposed to be about the action and was in facts condemning the crowds that would flock to see such foul displays this one embraces them and the violence in its heart with a sly, sadistic smile spread across its face. So I should feel bad for being that very audience member, for compromising core beliefs that I only just ascertained and deriving entertainment from human suffering; I “should” and yet I don’t, in fact my face displays that very same smile on my dial and has since the films first action scene started.
On the surface the core concept of the film is very similar to that ofThe Hunger Games and there admittedly isn’t much more toThe Raid than the aesthetic. Here too a group of people are locked in an arena, all driven there by Greek God-like political forces, and forced to fight. The difference though lies in the fact that this film is not set in some fantasy land, just in a far away one and these people aren’t pubescents, they’re police and reprobates. The arena in which they find themselves in an Indonesian tenant building bought and owned by the biggest of the cities criminals, who has cleverly filled it’s apartments with arseholes, addicts and other assorted thugs and lowlifes, creating for himself a fort and an army akin to those of the Middle Ages. At first it is the job of a sole squad of SWAT-like troops to storm the building but quickly the mission parameters shift to simply staying alive as the shit hits the fan.
By setting its stage in the real world this gladiatorial competition actually raises the stakes on those similar efforts; though there may not be any tracker jackers or other such science fiction stuff this realism ensures a fight without rounds, rules or regulations, there isn’t even the guarantee that one will exit alive come the finale. The fights that follow in the gauntlet however are a little less grounded that even those of The Hunger Games; like many action movies everybody involved is an insanely talented and inhumanly tough fighter and so their battles begin at breakneck speed and continue at that pace through a number of near-fatal injuries. This though isn’t an insult, it’s a compliment; real fights are awkward while these are awe-inspiring, the choreography of the action here is an art-form, of that there is no doubt. I also have no doubt that while watching the film you will wince, you will grow weary, you will wait on the edge of your seat for a reveal and wrap your hands together with a clap when some conclusions come; The Raid is, without a doubt, a spectator sport.
The pacing of the action early on is of particular note: we are constantly dragged from peace, through quiet tension and then into a loud climactic release. Though this unfortunately is not always the case, the later acts tending to stack loud on loud more often than they maybe should and worst of all the silence they do offer is not that of suspense but story. It is certainly important to string together your combat scenes with some kind of context, in order to make the audience care about the combatants, but by the time the third act hits it is too late for that; by then we are just begging for the biggest brawl you can throw at us and so any time that you stop those for a stretch to tell us some skimpy, cliche tale of corruption, pregnant wives and warring gangs is going to be nought but a boring bit. In a direct inversion of yesterday’s film the story here is the poor part, but similarly it is not the pictures priority and so it shouldn’t be judged too harshly for that failure.
As action is it’s priority The Raid should be rated by how well it managed that and as i’ve already said it did so awesomely. I’m not much of an expert in the field, I couldn’t distinguish a Jujitsu from a Tae-Kwon-Doe but what I could make-out seemed expertly made; as clever and coherent as the Woo/Fat films that people seem to hold as a strong standard. None of the blows are achieved through cinematic trickery, they never cut away from a throw to a hit and deny you that moment of impact; it’s all here on display for you to revel in. You can tell that every blow is as real and this is only possible if those offering and receiving them are highly trained, that they are experts. Which Is really something given the sheer scale of the picture; stick around for the end credits, not because the is a cool coda but because the scope of extra’s listed is hilariously huge. So is it perhaps a little wrong to not only witness but enjoy the killing of so many men? Without a doubt, but does it feel good? The only thing that would have made the movie more fun would be the ability to send in sponsorships. I’d ship off to the capital right now if it didn’t mean that i’d likely miss the sequel that is sure to come.
P.S. Congrats to David for his debut as the corrupt police chief, Flashman’s got moves!