Monday, April 2, 2012

THE RAID is Action Movie Awesomeness of the Highest Order!


- There are badass movies, and then there are BADASS movies. And my friends, THE RAID falls squarely into the latter category. If you are a fan of kickass action movies, run to the nearest theater playing this as soon as humanly possible, and prepare thyself for ownage of the highest order. Because The Raid is, quite simply, an instant action-classic. It will blow your mind and fill your neural pathways with awesome-overload. I mean - damn! - this is how it's done.

The genius of The Raid is how it takes a simple yet instantly-digestible premise and just milks it for all it's worth. The underlying idea is this: a ruthless crime-lord, Tama, has, for a long time, been untouchable by the law. Holed up in a high-rise tenement building that he uses as his base, the crime boss offers the highly-secured building as a shelter for any criminals looking to escape the law. In return, he asks only for loyalty. Thanks to shady dealings with the cops and a general sense that he's too powerful to take down, Tama has reigned unchallenged over the city's underworld. But now, a SWAT team has been charged with infiltrating the compound. Their mission is to storm the building and secure it floor by floor. Ultimately, they are charged with taking Tama and his top lieutenants down once and for all. At first, the mission is meant to be carried out covertly. But soon, things go wrong, and Tama is tipped off to the SWAT team's presence. He summons all of his men to take out the SWAT team. And thus ensues total #%&$'ing carnage.

The film is like a master class in action-movie plotting 101. The lead characters are plainly drawn in quick scenes that establish their role in the story. On the SWAT team, the key players are quickly set-up: there's Rama - a highly-skilled rookie cop who just wants to get home to his preganant wife, Jaka - the by-the-book captain of the squad, and Wahyu - the shady, silver-haired veteran who may or may not be in Tama's pocket. Tama's right-hand men are similarly, simply, established. Andi is his trusted adviser - though he has a surprise connection to a member of the SWAT team. And Mad Dog is his enforcer - a sadistic martial arts master who insists on only using his hands to kill his opponents. Tama himself is a classic bad-guy - he oozes venom and is just gleefully evil.

Essentially, what we've got here is a story and characters that work perfectly with what Welsh director Gareth Evans is going for: total badassery. And I can't say enough about how much each of the actors - both the leads, and the army of extras who contribute to the fight scenes -impress with their combination of charisma, martial arts and athletic skill, and sheer sense of showmanship. This is one of those films where you just sit back and watch in amazement. How were these fights choreographed? How much was improvisational from the actors, and how much was plotted out in advance? How did Evans capture the lightning-quick martial arts moves, gun battles, and acrobatics of the performers? And how did he manage to make the action so bone-crunching and yet so transcendentally cinematic - especially given the clear yet never truly limiting budgetary constraints? One thing I'll point out here: THE RAID has some of the greatest martial arts battles I've EVER seen on film. And yet, this isn't *just* a martial arts movie. It's got everything: gun battles, shoot-outs, covert attacks, and yes: absolutely insane hand-to-hand fights that go places that no movie has gone before. Just when you think the film can't top itself ... it does. And if you're a jaded action movie fan who thinks they've seen it all: think again. Suffice it to say, there's a legitimate "holy $#%&!" moment every couple of minutes in this one.

I'll give special shout-outs to two actor/performers in particular who are just plain sick. One is Iko Uwais as our young hero Rama. This guy is phenomenal - an excellent actor and an off-the-chain martial artist. Uwais seriously may have what it takes to be a legend if given the right film parts. He's that damn good. Meanwhile, Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog ... my god. This guy is perfect as a take-no-prisoners bad guy - he's lean, mean, and just ridiculously incredible at kicking ass and doing so with style. All I can say is that one of the film's climactic battles - a three-way fight between Rama, Mad Dog, and a third participant that I won't spoil - is one of the single greatest showdowns I've ever seen in a movie, and will be etched into the cannon of awesome action-movie moments forever and for all time.

And by the way, there's also a pretty great, Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack that adds a lot to the movie. Good stuff ... sure to get yer' blood pumping.

No, there isn't much to THE RAID beyond its videogame-like structure and mind-melting action. And for that reason you have to wonder if it can truly be called "great." I will just say that this is an instant classic within its genre. If you want deep character arcs or multilayered emotional journeys ... look elsewhere.

Sony is apparently already at work on an American remake of The Raid, and I have to question why. There's simply no way a remake could even come close to topping this. The only way to do it would be to forego the martial arts and just make a badass - but more traditional - action movie with the same or similar premise. But still ... do NOT wait for a remake here. The Raid may be Indonesian, but it speaks the universal language of ABSOLUTE OWNAGE. There are things here you've never seen or dreamed of before. You will go in a boy, come out a man. Because yes, this will be a movie spoken about for years to come in hushed, reverent whispers. So see it now. That is, if you've got the cajones.

My Grade: A-

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