4:38 PM, the Chateau Apres in Park City Utah. I have been up since 4:37 AM. I am running on four and a half hours of sleep, a bagel and two cokes. And I have not been this happy in a long time.
On a personal level, the community here is incredible. So far today I have had conversations with an agent and an actor, both friendly and one rather extensive and engrossing – these are people I would like to get to know better, and if I can manage it, work with. Outside of business based people, I have a lot of peers here – twentysomethings with a serious passion for film and it has lead to conversations on everything from why Jackie Brown is seriously underrated to the many and myriad ways we ended up here in Park City. It is one of several things that makes the ubiquitous incredibly long waits worth while.
Another one of those several things? The movies, particularly today’s – Gareth Evans’ The Raid.
Taken in summary, The Raid seems generic, even dull. An elite team of police officers infiltrates an apartment complex controlled by a powerful, ruthless ganglord. Things rapidly go wrong, and the surviving police must fight their way out of the complex as the odds mount further and further against them. Throw in Kid Rock or a paycheck-seeking Al Pacino and it could be yet another example of crime drama so botched and formulaic that even snarking it would be a half-hearted waste of time.
The Raid is to an extent generic, but it executes its genre’s requirements flawlessly. And to say that it is dull would be to say that Harry Potter is an obscure, unfinished series that no-one really gives a care either way about. Or in less cute terms, wildly untrue. Gareth Evans stages his fight scenes with perfect control over their chaos. Whenever heroic cop Rama (Iko Uwais, reuniting with Evans after they debuted together with 2009′s Merantau) and his companions engage the apartment’s army of murderous thugs, all hell breaks loose. Dozens of automatic weapons are fired as fast as they can be, legions of fighters armed with an array of wildly different weapons crowd the complex’s cramped halls, and anything that can somehow be violently moved will be. But it is never impossible to follow what is going on, and in fact it is rather easy to do so – especially later in the film, where, due to the Law of Diminishing Characters in Any Given Action Movie* Evans’ camera has fewer and fewer people to follow. But considering that, the camera work is a marvel. The Raid‘s final fight is two-on-one, and all three fighters are masters of their art (specifically silat, a martial art native to Indonesia), constantly punching, kicking, grabbing and throwing each other at incredibly high speeds. Throughout it, I always knew what was going on and who was doing what to who. It’s exhilarating to watch.
But beyond the fact that The Raid‘s action is exceptional is the fact that I actually really cared about the characters involved in it. The characters are basic – Rama is the noble cop who will do the right thing because it’s the right thing, his Sergent would do anything to protect his men, crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) is a gleefully sadistic monster and his enforcer Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) lives for fights to the death. But the actors translate those very basic sketches into some fascinating body language; Rama stands tall and is always alert, Mad Dog slouches unless he is fighting, at which point he becomes consumed with ecstasy. Furthermore, Evans is an action director who is not afraid of letting his characters talk. Aside from grunts, screams and the occasional order, his fight scenes are dialogue-free. In between them though, he is more than willing to let his cast bounce off of each other, resulting in some effective emotional depth and several very blackly funny moments (My personal favorite would probably be when Rama and an injured colleague are making their way to one of the few safe spaces in the complex).
If Wikipedia is to be believed, The Raid is due for national release on March 23rd. If you feel the need for a really exceptional action film, it is definitely worth a view. A caution though; it is an absolutely brutal film. In addition to acting, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian choreographed The Raid‘s fight scenes. Both are excellent martial artists who know exactly what can be done to a person, and Evans does not shy away from putting that knowledge on screen.
Lastly, I should say something about the soundtrack. The Raid was re-scored for its international release by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. I cannot speak to the original version’s quality, but I can say that Shinoda’s soundtrack is excellent, particularly a piece used in the film’s trailer that serves as Rama’s leitmotif.