The Review: Once in a generation, a film comes along that defines everything that follows, and few films have been as influential in terms of concept as Die Hard. Rapidly becoming a shorthand for the succession of action movies that followed, everything from Die Hard On A Bus (Speed) to On A Boat (Under Siege) was given a convenient high concept to relate to the audience. It seems we’ve gradually come full circle; earlier this year we had Die Hard On A Ledge and now The Raid presents a riff that takes a lot from the original concept: tall building, police officers, master criminal, high stakes… It should come as no surprise to the cynical, based on that description, that The Raid is actually nothing like Die Hard at all.
If I were to pick a more recent comparison, I’d liken The Raid more to Scott Pilgrim vs The World. A series of fights, highly choreographed, with a videogame-like level structure and regular boss-style battles. A dilapidated Indonesian tower block might seem an unlikely setting for an action movie; even more so once you consider that the very Welsh named Gareth Evans is in the director’s chair. Gareth’s actual style is almost the polar opposite of Edgar Wright, for although they might share an active camera Wright relies on the medium he’s paying homage to, be it fast cuts or videogame framing, to get his effect. Evans sweeps around the building more serenely, but when the fights come the camera locks in and fights of increasing length are captured in single takes to impressive effect.
The action is undeniably impressive to watch – it’s the first 18 rated action movie I can recall in a while that justifies that rating – and should set even the most action movie-hardened of hearts racing, but The Raid falls down in two key areas. When compared to classic action movies, The Raid has ramped up the excitement and pared down the dialogue and story to the bare minimum. What’s left is a little too threadbare, not quite providing enough to invest in the characters or why they continue to beat seven shades of crap out of each other. The actors are generally better fighters and stuntmen than they are actors, which is not to say they’re bad actors, rather that they probably won’t be troubling the main acting categories come awards season. The one standout is Ray Sahetapy as the big boss Tama, oozing menace and not being afraid to get his hands dirty, but the remainder are serviceable and nothing more.
All of these might be unfair criticisms of an action movie, but the best examples of the genre manage to balance explosions, fighting and talking, and in this case it is possible to have too much of a good thing. It’s also possible to say that of individual sequences, and while the Indonesian martial arts on display are fierce, every punch landed carries with it the weight of repetition. One of the final fights runs for over six minutes, and becomes a war of attrition as the characters involved wear each other down, leaving the audience at risk of knowing exactly what that feels like. The Raid will satisfy anyone with a craving for a rush of pure cinematic adrenaline, but it might just be a single hit rather than a repeat visit, as The Raid isn’t quite the classic that the hype would have you believe.
Why see it at the cinema: No doubt in my mind that the visceral impact of the fights will lose something at home, so best to immerse yourself in the building, and by that I don’t just mean 15 storeys of criminals.
The Score: 8/10