Read all our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival here.
Iko Uwais appeared to be a somewhat diminutive man when he appeared onstage at the Toronto Film Festival, genially complaining through a translator that he was suffering from jetlag and “I haven’t been able to enjoy a meal yet” since he made the trip all the way from Indonesia to present “The Raid.” But even at half-strength, I would steer clear of him if I suspected he was grumpy after seeing the film because he could kill me in at least 60 different ways.
The beauty of “The Raid” is in its simplicity, its premise and 80 percent of the plot explained away in the first 10 minutes as a fully armored S.W.A.T. team rides to the apartment complex of Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy), a slumlord cum crime kingpin. The filmmakers don’t even make much of an attempt to hide the fact that all the exposition for the hour-and-a-half ahead is in the instructions the captain (Doni Alamsyah) gives to his men in the back of the van, including Uwais’ Rama. The cops need to take out Riyadi and his two henchmen, one serving as the brains (Joe Taslim) of the operation and the other the brawn (Yayan Ruhian). Little do they know that once inside, Riyadi will offer free rent to all his tenants, who have probably all done things in their past to land them in this version of hell and won’t have an issue with slashing up a few cops to save a few bucks.
From there, what writer/director Gareth Evans delivers is a little bit of nirvana for action fans. It’s got something for everyone. If you like martial arts, there's a bone-breaking kick around every corner. If you like gunplay, each gunshot will ripple through walls and rattle the speakers. If you prefer machetes, one seems to be one of the few amenities provided under all the dining room tables in the otherwise shabby tenement building.
As clearly stated as its title, “The Raid” pits the cops in black against the ragtag group of drug dealers, murderers and thieves dressed in appropriately motley clothing, each side winnowing down the other side in glorious fashion until the film’s leads are able to take center stage and square off directly against each other.
While Evans is content to not throw in many plot developments until the second half of the film — two of the cops have different objectives from the start — he does just enough with each character to make their individual stories mean something when they start beating to each other to a pulp. With a single line, the least intimidating of the bad guys from the first half of the film becomes the most intimidating in the second and Riyadi, the big bad of the piece, plays by prison rules, establishing himself as a considerable threat from a memorable opening scene and recedes back to a bank of surveillance monitors for the majority of the film where he maintains his considerable presence throughout. Less is generally more, except when it comes to the actual action where Evans will throw 15 guys into a room to have at it.
Although there’s occasionally an obvious edit in a fight scene, every action sequence is dazzling whether it starts with a gun and ends with an epic bout of fisticuffs or takes place in a split-second with any one of the film’s endlessly inventive kills. (Lessons learned from “The Raid” include the combustible mix of a gas tanks inside a refrigerator and the best way to leave a room if you’re isolated is to axe through its floor.) Clearly, Evans and cinematographer Matt Flannery know how to stage a sequence and keep track of its geography, which has become something of a lost art these days, unafraid of multiple camera swirls for effect, but also never getting lost in either its intent or of where the characters actually need to be.
But even more than making sense, “The Raid” is more ballsy than any other action film I can think of in recent memory, making the Luc Besson factory films look every bit of their usual PG-13 ratings, and restoring the hurt to the genre that’s been taken away by wirework and cool, outlandish weaponry. Here, there’s no need for such things when a well-executed kick to the face will do. And as Evans said during the film’s introduction, “There's a lot of that.”
"The Raid" has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisition Group, though it has neither a specific distributor or a release date. It plays Toronto once more on September 10th at AMC 2.