Artfully sadistic and elegantly hypnotic, Gareth Evans’s “The Raid” is a master class in brutally stylistic and simplistic storytelling. Ostensibly a traditional cops-vs.-bad-guys frenetic beat-’em-up, Evans executes his tale with such flair and guile that this is far superior fare to comparable genre pictures. Evans’s appreciation of and fascination with the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat ensures that every punch and kick hits the mark, subjecting his audience to a relentless assault on the senses.
In itself, the premise is remarkably straightforward. Mafia boss Tama (a menacing Ray Sahetapy) lords it over a derelict tower block in the Jakarta slums, a veritable no-go zone and safe haven for all manner of mischief makers and degenerates. Determined to topple Tama’s empire is a group of green police commandos led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and shifty Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), who are tasked with the daunting prospect of systematically clearing all 15 floors of the building.
Tama proves a worthy adversary, a merciless executioner protected by loyal heavies Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), an apt descriptor if ever there was one. With the secrecy of the raid easily compromised in its infancy, so the bloodbath begins. Evans soon metes out sanguineous death to law and disorder in equal measure, utilising fists, feet, bullets and knives in ever inventive and visceral fashion.
Faced with insurmountable odds and enemies within and without their operation, the dwindling police numbers, spurred on by rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), are soon faced with the far-from-appealing undertaking of fighting their way out of the block against a vicious army. The tight focus of the narrative soon allows the magic of the numerous fight scenes to shine, with the choreography crafted by Ruhian and Uwais little short of spectacular.
Within the confines of endlessly bleak corridors and anonymous floors, the audience is thrust into the crux of the action, so much so that one can feel every crunch of bone and drop of blood. Coupled with an impressive and creative use of sound, it makes for an immersive and exhaustive experience. The frantic, unremitting pace never once lets up as double cross follows murder until Rama, Andi and Mad Dog face off in a delectable three-way, a pugilistic ballet that surely ranks as one of the finest fight scenes ever committed to celluloid.
Evans’s commitment to the art of the fight lends every scene a verity that elevates “The Raid” to spectacular heights. It’s a skilfully crafted, raw and unflinching dance of death; an ode to ultraviolence which sets the bar for parts two and three of a mooted trilogy. On this evidence, Evans has his work cut out topping this stellar effort.