The main ingredient in The Raid is action, specifically the kind of action where dudes beat the living hell out of each other with their fists, their feet, and whatever weapons are nearby. There are other ingredients, too -- there's a plot, kind of, and some characters, in a way -- but that's just to create an infrastructure for delivering all that bone-crunching, head-shooting, thigh-slashing mayhem.
The Raid made people's heads explode when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September -- mostly because the action is so jaw-droppingly frenetic and well-executed, but perhaps partly because it came from Indonesia, a country whose film industry doesn't usually get much attention. Certain fans of the genre weren't too surprised, though: the writer/director, Gareth Huw Evans, made a film called Merantau a couple years ago that hinted at this kind of skill.
The setup for The Raid is appealingly simple. A young cop named Rama (Iko Uwais) says goodbye to his pregnant wife one morning and joins his SWAT team in an ambush of a grimy tenement building that serves as headquarters for a nasty crime boss named Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Tama and his army of thugs, goons, and henchmen have the run of the high-rise, and even the building's few legitimate tenants must pay obeisance to him. Soon after entering the building, the cops' cover is blown. Shots are fired. All hell breaks loose.
I mean no disrespect when I say that the film, with its no-frills scenario and almost relentless violence, resembles a video game. The good guys fight their way onto another level of the building and are instantly set upon by furious enemies, whom they either kill or are killed by. Nobody's shy about using guns to do the job, but they're good at old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat, too. (An Indonesian martial art called Pencak Silat is the movie's bread and butter.) They also do a lot of stabbing, slashing, and slicing with whatever sharp implements are handy, including knives, machetes, and broken fluorescent light bulbs. Skirmishes take place in hallways, stairwells, and individual apartments. Combatants crash through doors, windows, and floors, breaking their backs, necks, and arms.
At the center of it all is Iko Uwais, an extraordinarily dextrous martial artist who also starred in Merantau and could, I assume, murder anyone reading this. As an actor, he delivers his lines suitably. As a fighter, he destroys everyone who challenges him. His character often takes on several opponents at a time, dispatching them with thrilling efficiency and resourcefulness. Uwais, Evans, and the large cast of mostly anonymous fighters come up with enough different ways to kill each other to keep things interesting, but nothing so elaborate or inventive that it seems contrived. Kills are not followed by one-liners. This is serious business. That intensity is what makes it so electrifying to watch.
The film's only flaw is that almost everything between the action scenes is negligible, consisting of the usual generic elements like dirty cops and personal vendettas, with little effort made to inject any originality. (One exception: a suspenseful moment with someone hiding behind a fake wall.) It's clear that Evans knew he could deliver spectacular fight sequences and felt like he didn't need to knock himself out on the other stuff. And he has a point. The movie gets a little slow when it settles down for some routine dialogue or plot development, but it's never more than a couple minutes before break time is over and it's back to the insane fighting stunts.