Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Raid

Reviewing ‘Dredd’ in May, I wondered if its lacklustre box office performance was due to the fact that it “came at the tail-end of two years’ worth of claustrophobic genre movies set in high-rise apartments, from grungy French zombie flick ‘La Horde’ to urban Brit horror ‘The Citadel’ by way of ‘Attack the Block’, ‘The Raid’, ‘Tower Block’, ‘Rammbock’ and however many others”.

And the point remains: every subgenre will eventually become overcrowded and spawn audience indifference. But by the same token, every subgenre will find its exemplar. ‘The Raid’ is the best tower-block-as-battleground movie you will ever see.

That it’s the best of its kind is probably a good thing, since much of it is clichéd, derivative and predictable. If it didn’t power through its gossamer-thin narrative with such demented energy – if it slowed its breakneck pace for even a second – the risk of outstaying its welcome would be palpable.

Here’s some of the hoary old tropes that ‘The Raid’ goes flaunting about with as if it truly were doing something new: the everything-to-lose hero introduced taking his leave of his pregnant wife; the nervous new recruit; the grizzled old-timer with a hidden agenda; the edgy, paranoid, unpredictable gang boss; the sadistic enforcer to said gang boss; the ease with which minor characters are massacred; the improbable injuries the major characters sustain and get back to their feet to fight some more; the predisposition of all parties to get into protracted bouts of hand-to-hand combat when there’s a perfectly functional small bore fireman within reach.

Plotwise, it never extends beyond cops storm tower block, crims bring the pain, an ulterior motive’s revealed, a double-cross takes place, a fuckload of people die. In fact, it’s pretty much interchangeable with ‘Dredd’ (except that ‘Dredd’ bothers to have a female character) right down to the crystal meth lab in one of the mezzanine levels. Because there’s always a crystal meth lab in a tower block, right? Never a counterfeiting operation or a fake fag house or a chop shop in the underground garage. No, it’s always a fucking crystal meth lab.

But I digress. And I’m also spending rather a lot of words banging on about the flaws in a film that I introduced as the exemplar of its subgenre. Which brings me back to the essential point: all ‘The Raid’ has to do to eclipse all other tower block based action movies is deliver more action. Be harder, faster, more relentless. And relentless is certainly the right word. It takes director Gareth Evans – a Welsh-born Jakarta-based filmmaker – just a few minutes to get his tooled up and eminently expendable squad of cops to the tower block. The tension is simmering away nicely by the ten-minute mark and things all go to hell only a few more minutes after that. There is not a dull moment in the whole 97 minutes. There isn’t a wasted frame or a moment of stasis. Everything that happens in ‘The Raid’ happens in order to perpetuate the momentum, to keep the characters on the move, to hyperlink from one violent or suspenseful scenario to the next.

The sequel is apparently a sprawling two and a half hour crime saga. How that will compare to the taut, claustrophobic setting from which Evans wrings every bit of action and suspense possible remains to be seen.


Tim said...

This film is, to me, a ballet: the plot is deliberately stripped down to the most basic elements so you don't have to really think about it, and the joy comes in watching highly-trained people do amazing things with their bodies.

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the sequel. Six months later, I'm still sorting out my reaction.

Neil Fulwood said...

Absolutely. I spent most of the running time in a state of amazement that they can do those things, in often tightly confined spaces, without actually killing each other.

Sequel review planned for next week.