It is no small treasure that in the age of streaming media, the algorithms we fuel while watching out favorites help various AIs feed us more of the same until one day our Netflix screen is filled with exactly seven film genres: Comedies Featuring Lemurs, Violent Chinese Crime Movies, Monster Movie Period Dramas, Laid Back Sci-Fi, Completely Amped Up Sci Fi, Drive-In Classics for Those Who Don’t Realize Drive-Ins Really Aren’t Much of a Thing Anymore, and Documentaries. With such incredibly detailed and bottomless rabbit holes to fall down, we really have no excuse to not find really fun movies that we might otherwise have had zero clue of hearing about, let alone watch. And it is in that spirit that we take a look at one of the most blood-soaked portrayals of an average day in the Jakarta police department: The Raid.
Marketed in the U.S. as The Raid: Redemption (because of Sony couldn’t get the rights to the original name), The Raid is the story of Indonesian special forces police officer Rama, a martial arts badass and family man who heads out one morning on an operations that appears, at first, to be no different than any other day when the chief asks 20 SWAT guys to arm up, get in the van, and storm a high-rise run by a local drug kingpin. Rama is clearly one of the new guys on the force, and is a little worried about what the day holds for him. And he has good reason, too. The entire operation is an elaborate trap, and once the cops get to the 6th floor, the kingpin unleashes the entire criminal population of the high-rise on our heroes, who are swiftly decimated. As Rama survives the initial onslaught with a handful of his fellow squaddies, their mission for justice becomes a desperate fight for survival that will leave no hallway of the building free from blood and bodies. This isn’t just a raid. This is a war.
Look, let’s just get right to it, okay? This is one of those completely unpretentious movies that does what it says on the tin: kill ’em all. It delivers on a premise just solid enough to justify about 100 minutes of unfettered mayhem and slaughter where in the average good guy can take about 13 times the amount of abuse it normally kills a regular human being. Bad guys are plentiful and all armed with automatic weapons when the scene calls for gunplay, and armed with machetes and other tools when the scene calls for an extended cut-‘em-up. There are just enough innocent bystanders to give the heroes an occasional place to hide, but otherwise, this movie is one of the most elaborate games of cope and robbers ever played. And all with the kind of savage ferocity that seems to dominate a lot of Indonesian action cinema in what can only be described as a bid to get critics to retroactively decide that maybe the bullet-laden epics of John Woo’s Hong Kong days were the cinematic equivalent of a tea party, doilies and all.
This movie should not work as well as it does. The story is as thin as any other crapulent splatterfest you’re likely to find after 45 minutes of fruitless scrolling through YouTube in search of movies people forgot to renew the copyrights on. The acting is straight down the middle, the twists and turns in it are fairly straightforward, and the budget is not great. But in the hands of director Gareth Edwards, a Welshman who spent a few years making Indonesia his cinematic stomping grounds, the Raid’s every weakness becomes a strength. The action is so good that you’re thankful that there isn’t any story to get in the way, especially when you realize that none of it would have added anything to the movie except runtime. And because this thing was shot on a way-less-than-Hollywood budget, it’s got two things that you see in other successful, low-rent movies: inventiveness and a scrappy kind of passion.
The Raid isn’t just some cynical exercise or a delusional attempt to make something that it isn’t. It is a virtuoso presentation of comic-book action in a format distilled to its purest essence that might not for everybody, but only because not everybody has the guts to eat a bouillon cube without spitting it out. The movie was enough of a success to reunite its stellar cast and director for a sequel, The Raid 2 (perhaps better known by its original name, Berandal). But Berandal commits the sin of ditching simplicity for narrative ambition as as such overstays its welcome by 30 minutes, despite its many supremely good fight scenes. The Raid is all killer, no filler, and maybe a little more killer on the side. If there is a point of detraction here, it is its more-than-passing resemblance to the dark sci-fi masterpiece Dredd. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Watch that, watch this. Both are their own thing, despite being based on the premise of grimacing super cops trapped in a tall building filled with punchy psycho killers without any hope of rescue or backup.
Normally, one might not hand-wave such a thing away so easily, but consider this movie’s moment of truth, when Rama’s buddy Jaka has an extended and brutal fight to the death with the invincible enforcer, Mad Dog. It is a scene so filled with gutsy battle that any other movie would have reserved it for the finale. But no. Here, it’s just table stakes to remind us that when this thing ends, it will be with one even bigger scene than the one that just melted your brain. And the only thing that will ever stop this movie’s escalation is when Indonesia runs out of stunt people. Biarkan mayatnya menyentuh lantai, baby.