Best fight movie of the year? Definitely. Best fight movie of any year? Quite possibly. We say “fight movie” not “action film”, of course, because that’s what writer/director Gareth Evans’ barnstorming cult hit is and nothing else: a lean, ripped, inventive, spectacularly brutal fighter. All killer, no filler. Just like the terrified SWAT team trapped inside a 15-storey tower block packed with Jakarta’s baddest criminals, The Raid locks itself inside the genre template before grabbing it by the throat, bouncing off every hard surface and showing exactly what you can do in tight spaces.
Desperately charging upwards through videogame levels of heavily armed killers towards the top-floor drug kingpin (Ray Sahetapy) and his two ruthless henchmen (Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian), good-cop hero Iko Uwais and a squad of cops battle for survival through a thrilling daisychain of set-pieces. Not only are the bloody firefights and surges of relentless hand-to-hand hallway combat breathtakingly choreographed, but the fluid camerawork proves it was shot by a visual storyteller who genuinely understands martial arts.
Riding the angles and tempo of the action in clean edits and elastic unbroken shots, Evans and his two lensers (Matt Flannery and Eimas Imam Subhono) shift the camera both vertically and horizontally through hallways, floors, doors and ceilings to find fresh cinematic geometry on the ultraviolence. It’s jaw-popping stuff: bones splintering, blood splattering, a throat impaled on a doorframe, three point blank gunshots to the skull, a knife-sliced hamstring. But it’s witty, too, by turns explosive (a gas canister in a fridge) to nerve-tingling (a wall and a machete).
True, there’s little else here. There’s little else needed. It’s visceral, not emotional and Evans adds just enough shading to the story – corruption, brotherhood, honour – to give his movie some dramatic ballast. Cool and devastating, Uwais is an easy screen hero who holds focus during the breath-catcher lulls when he’s not dishing out sensational demos of Indonesian martial art ‘Silat’. Can Evans repeat the trick with a bigger budget and a richer script? We’ll see. But while the smoke clears and The Raid 2 preps, you can learn more in the solid stack of bonus supps on the DVD. Director’s commentary, interviews with Evans and Uwais, featurettes and – best of all – Lee Hardcastle’s viral animation Claycat, which remakes The Raid in threes minutes, in clay, with cats. Brilliant.