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REVIEW: Serbuan maut [The Raid] [2011]

“And please, enjoy yourself”

Like a musical’s plot finding itself mere rubber cement desperately trying to hold the song and dance numbers together—I know this is a broad generalization of a genre I do in fact enjoy—the story in Serbuan maut [The Raid] never attempts to overshadow the amazing stunt choreography let loose. I refuse to acknowledge the newly plastered on subtitle ‘Redemption’ since it is unnecessary superfluity and doesn’t even describe what occurs. Only one character can be redeemed—to say who would ruin its not-so-cleverly deceiving twist—and he refuses the chance. So, besides Sony Pictures Classics maybe having a colon fetish, what was the addition’s point? This is a SWAT team raid on a warlord’s base with rapid-fire artillery, unapologetic knife fights, and some of the best hand-to-hand brawls I’ve seen in years. That’s what the people want and writer/director Gareth Evans has given it to them.

Say what you will about the story’s originality, no one can deny the precise detail and gorgeously brutal visual aesthetic at work. There’s enough plot to keep you interested in the questions arising about characters with little to no backstory, but I think plot was always to be sacrificed in lieu of the battle about to rage. The Raid is simply a premise on which to build a series of videogame style levels with ever-increasingly talented hoards on the other side of the walls ready for war. It’s cops against criminals in a bloody extravaganza of carnage to ambush, extract, and shut down a syndicate long left unchecked as a result of police corruption. Even our introduction to the task at hand sets up Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and his lieutenants Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and Andi (Doni Alamsyah) as the untouchable Donkey Kong waiting for the completion of Mario’s steady ascent.

But that’s the film: uniformed men covertly entering a warzone without reinforcements, securing each floor on their way up. Unfortunate for them, however, is a young boy with a full bladder quickly turning the table as his scream of warning sounds the alarm and precipitates Tama’s loudspeaker promise of free room and board in the complex for anyone who helps exterminate his new infestation of intruders. The lights go dark and the open-air central staircase ramp becomes the main battlefield as each side jockeys for position on higher ground. Gunfire blasts through the quiet and half of the SWAT team is mowed down before they even know what’s happening. What should have been a meticulous takedown unravels, placing the ‘good guys’ at a distinct disadvantage while also revealing baby-faced Rama (Iko Uwais) to be a bit more prepared than the other rookies at his side.

With his commanding officers Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) pinned down, Rama unleashes the pain on a hallway full of hostilely motivated tenants like a knife through butter. Shot in a mixture of prolonged footage proving the fights are real and quick cuts to change angles and keep the sequences visually interesting, it’s a perfectly timed dance of gore and screams as knives slash, stab, and dismember after the point blank gunshots finish. The effects seamlessly splatter blood with every weapon’s exit from flesh and not even Rama can escape the battle scars of war. Authentically horrific for both sides, this isn’t some ‘white hat’, specially trained assassin coming in with a precision assault. No, our hero is just a regular guy with a wife and unborn child back home on a mission to complete his assignment and escape with his life. He fights to survive and his actions portray that goal.

What Evans does to great effect is keep us in the storm’s epicenter for the duration. We catch a glimpse of Rama at home preparing for the big day, listen to Jaka explain instructions to the inexperienced team at his command, and then watch them enter the complex. From there, we never leave the fight. Once Rama and Jaka split up, we find ourselves going back and forth between their respective carnage to catch the former take out whole gangs of violent men and the latter engage in an extended romp with Mad Dog. This man-to-man exchange is but an appetizer to the unreal climactic two against one spat finally getting Tama’s crazed lunatic’s pulse pounding. Taslim, Ruhian, Alamsyah, and Uwais are all amazingly skillful and every contact with fist, foot, wall, or floor looks and feels painful.

There is more to the plot than meets the eye—although it shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes to decipher what’s truly going on—but the action refuses to release you long enough to care. Hidden relationships are easy to ignore since we could care less about who fights whom as long as someone is fighting. Evans never plays up the heartstring tugs by continuously making Rama think about his family at home, but instead lets him focus on the task at hand. One of the few incorruptible cops on the force, his compassion for the innocents caught in the crossfire and the stubbornly rude friends at his side is admirable and helps keep him grounded when we acknowledge how he’s maimed or killed two dozen people. Unrelenting and fearless, Uwais still shows remorse in the taking of a life and that’s a trait we non-sociopaths can relate to.

This guy is bona fide action star and should find himself a wealth of projects to eventually crossover to America. The same can be said for Evans—most assuredly Welsh despite being credited as Gareth Huw Evans—as his ability to sustain the kinetic pace is no easy task. And for a film including extended scenes devoid of speech while only grunts, screams, and heavy breathing is heard, the amount of story he does infuse should be commended. Never one to dismiss my having fun in the theatre because some other aspect of the whole was a letdown, I would rewatch The Raid in a heartbeat solely for the chance to see Uwais, Alamsyah, and Ruhian throw down again.

Serbuan maut [The Raid] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Left to Right: Iko Uwais as Rama and Sofyan Alop as Machete Gang [Member] #5
Photo by Akhirwan Nurhaidir, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[2] Left to Right: Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog and Joe Taslim as Jaka
Photo by Akhirwan Nurhaidir, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[3] Left to Right: Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog and Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia as Dagu
Photo by Akhirwan Nurhaidir, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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