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Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Raid

Directed by: Gareth Evans

Produced by: Ario Sangantoro

Screenplay by: Gareth Evans

Starring: Iko Uwais
Joe Taslim
Donny Alamsyah
Yayan Ruhian
Pierre Gruno
Tegar Setrya
Ray Sahetapy

Music by: Fajar Yuskemal/Aria Prayogi (Celluloid Nightmares release)
Mike Shinoda/Joseph Trapanese (Sony Pictures Classics release)

Cinematography by: Matt Flannery

Editing by: Gareth Evans

Studio(s): PT. Merentau Films
XYZ Films

Distributed by: Celluloid Nightmares (Worldwide)
Sony Pictures Classics/Stage 6 Films (North America)

Release date(s): September 8, 2011 (TIFF)
January 20, 2012 (Sundance)
March 23, 2012 (United States & Indonesia)
May 18, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: Indonesia

Language: Indonesian

Production budget: $1.8 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $4, 105, 187

Keepin' busy, folks, keepin' busy. Not much has happened in the couple of hours since I've uploaded my review for the sci-fi 'Nazis In Space' comedy, Iron Sky, which I must say I thought was very good. I've watched the terrific Laurel and Hardy silent short The Finishing Touch and started reading the Son Of Celluloid short story in Clive Barker's Books Of Blood Volumes 1-3. As I said at the end of my last review, it's nice to be able to take a couple of days of being incredibly lazy after a combination of university work and paid employment, especially when you're sitting in a nice warm house. Not to get all soppy (I am a horrendous Scrooge, after all!), but it's times like this with the perennially gloomy Northern Ireland weather I'm glad of a roof over my head. So, for more diatribes about how grateful I am, occasional posts on what albums I am listening to (Iron Maiden: Somewhere In Time) and the odd review, keep your eyes posted!

Rightio, today's (other!) film is the Indonesian martial arts action film The Raid. This film has become something of an international sensation, in that it is being described as having a fresh approach to the martial arts film genre with its choreography and pacing, but also being compared, certainly in terms of it's apartment-block setting, to the likes of actions classics such as Die Hard. As such, this was one of the few foreign-language films to be released this year that made it to several multiplexes across the United Kingdom. I remember seeing it advertised in The Movie House on the Dublin Road and thinking that's a good sign when they're deciding to screen foreign-language films. Incidentally, there has been some confusion regarding the title. Over here in the United Kingdom, it was released as The Raid, and in the United States as The Raid: Redemption. This is because the Sony Pictures Classics (the production company) could not secure the rights to the title The Raid. Either title is applicable, but The Raid, without the additional Redemption, is the intended title of the picture. Directed by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, it's his second collaboration (after 2009's Merentau) with Iko Uwais, who impressed Evans, at the time filming a documentary on his pencak silat school, due to his martial arts skills and natural screen presence. Uwais plays Rama, an expectant father and young rookie officer, who as part of a twenty-man Detachment 88 special police squad, led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), head to an apartment block in Jakarta. Their mission is to remove, dead or alive, Tama Riyada (Ray Sahetapy), the crime lord and drug-runner who's essentially the self-appointed dictator that runs the block. Get the point? I hope you did, 'cause this plot synopsis is done.

All the fuss is being made about the martial arts in the film, and lets face it, it's a showcase designed to display the pencak silat style. This fuss is worth being made though, because this is as high-impact and hard-hitting as a contemporary martial-arts movie gets. Uwais, along with Yayan Ruhian (who plays the character of Mad Dog) have constructed a masterclass in the various versions of pencak silat. Uwais utilises the betawi style, while Ruhian seems to add a less crisp, more savage grappling version to the film, which is manifested in a lot of his character. Obviously, this is no dojo, so traditional pencak silat weapons are unavailable (it would be stupid given the plot), but the choreography works well with the production design and stunt team, in that like any smart action film, they make use of the scenery and props. As such, the film's action resembles at it's best the kind of balletic violence that you would see in John Woo films, and I think in particular a debt is owed to the final movement of Hard Boiled. It is astonishing to look at, but appropriately, it's not supposed to be pretty, and it also heads up on the brutality. On a final note on the action side, there are some individual fight scenes that are so brilliantly done that you forget about everything else in the film, and are genuinely amazed. By far and out the best fight scenes since Prachya Pinkaew's Thai films Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior and Chocolate. The film is also technically astute. Matt Flannery's cinematography captures the frenetic pace and near impossibility of what these guys are going through, but does it in such a way that compliments the action, displaying it as opposed to simply going nuts with the camera. Furthermore, it is shot in such a stylistic fascinating way, in that we are not just observing this action, but are ourselves in the thick of it, and I think this adds greatly to the power of the action sequences. In that regard, Gareth Evans must also be praised, for his capacities as both the film's editor and director. He cuts the film to compliment the cinematography, and he's wise enough to find that happy medium of showing us the action but not feeling too much like a pitch for pencak silat. Also, his editing in conjunction with the sound is strong, so not only are we getting the visual side of the action, but we are hearing thump and crunch of bones breaking. The foley sounds used are not your typical sounds, but more brutal and concerned with an aural presentation of just how nasty some of what's happening really is. Finally, Evans' direction is solid. I mean, this is, in it's own way, an exploitation piece, with a simple pitch. The thing about simple pitches is that in execution they can be done very badly, but in the case it's done very well, and the whole thing has a level of consistency lacking in many action films, and I think for that Evans should rightly be complimented.

The Raid is a great movie and a marvel to behold among some of the banality of the action film genre. I mean, Dragon Eyes had some terrific choreography from Cung Le (who I think has the potential to be a breakout star), but among the film's numerous problems was that it was shoddily lit and poorly scripted. The Raid is not shoddily lit, but unlike the very best of the genre, it does suffer from a deeply flawed script. I'm going to be incredibly patronising and ask anyone who's reading this a question, then tell you my answer. What makes the best action films deserving of the label 'best?' Answer: character. Roger Ebert, in his less than favourable review, bemoaned the lack of character development, and any attempts of it as "a cheap fakeout." While I don't share his low opinion of the film as a whole, the character issue is a problem. This is a squad of twenty men, of whom frankly I found hard to tell apart because they (mostly) seemed to have no defining mannerisms, and as such I wasn't moved in any shape or form when any died, because I was trying to figure just who had died. Also, I agree with Ebert in that the 'attempts' at character development come across as incredibly contrived, and also open up proverbial plot holes of predictability than ensure you can see what's coming a mile away. Critically, Dredd has been unfavourably compared to this film, but I find Dredd superior in that it didn't have much traditional 'character development' and kept steamrolling on, and as a result paradoxically ended up having much more subtle level of character development. The Raid does that, but then says, "Oh, we've got to have a minute or two Basil Exposition," and I'm going, very much in the fashion of Lou Reed, "I just don't care." Incidentally, I am going to nitpick on the score (again), but this film has half of a good score: on the one hand we have this momentous ambient industrial stuff a la Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts I-IV instrumentals, but on the other we have the classical orchestral croonings (or, if directed towards me, aural moonings!) of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra that says "Moody moment here, sad moment there, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!"

Here's the thing: The Raid suffers from an incredibly problematic script, which is severely lacking in legitimate character development, any attempt of which comes across as utterly contrived. Also, it has a score that wants to be on the one hand ambient industrial, appealing to one audience, and on the other the terrible saccharine nonsense that one can find most Hollywood films. However, despite these problems, the film is able to overcome them. In most other films, they would be seriously degrading to the final product, but in this case, there is enough to go on to ensure it's success and our enjoyment. Gareth Evans has succeeded as a director and editor, creating in a controlled manner this technically astute movie, shot well by Matt Flannery, and engages the audience. Furthermore, this film contains some of the most hard-hitting and high-impact action that has been put to film, the best fight scenes since Prachya Pinkaew's Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior and Chocolate, and is, even though it's not up there at the top tier of the likes of Fist Of Fury, Die Hard, Hard Boiled or The Matrix, it's still a highly entertaining, great action film. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Diagnosis - On -. Hint: I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you - 

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