There’s nothing western moviegoers seem to hate quite like a movie with subtitles, so there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of the new Indonesian film “The Raid” despite it being one of the better action movies to have come out in the past year. It is, above all, a film that proves bigger isn’t always better. With almost no CGI, around three locations, and music by the rapper from Linkin Park who no one wants to talk to since his solo career tanked, The Raid, (which, according to the Wall Street Journal, cost only about a million dollars to film) makes do, and it does so brilliantly.
The plot is fairly simple. A special operations team is sent into a housing project to destabilize a drug lord, the titular “raid” goes wrong since the drug lord knew that the team was coming, the team is trapped in the building with a small army of junkies out for their blood, and alliances are forged and broken around the axis of who tipped off the baddies that the cops were on their way. Or at least that’s the impression I got. The Raid is a dark movie in terms of more than just tone. Sometimes the camerawork moves so quickly around the bleak, shadowy halls of the housing project that it’s hard to tell what is going on at any given moment. Yes, the cinematography is gritty and stylized, but it’s also occasionally confusing.
The Raid is somewhat reminiscent of the first Die Hard movie (desperate cop tries to leave scary building) and of the more recent and widely overlooked Attack the Block (unexpected showdown in a housing project), but one can also draw some broader archetypal parallels. To me, protagonist Rama’s journey through the building’s halls is either reminiscent of Theseus wandering through the twists and turns of a maze in search of a monster, of a video game, or of a little bit of both.
Sticking to the mythological analogy, the maze’s Minotaur would inarguably be “Mad Dog,” a high ranking enforcer portrayed by Yayan Ruhian. Ruhian has been a trainer for Indonesian Presidential Security Forces. He’s the real deal and it shows since he steals every scene he’s in. It’s hard to think of anyone else who could qualify for the role, and the sequences in which he fights using salat (an Indonesian martial art) are some of the most memorable. Iko Uwais also pulls his weight in the lead roll despite the fact that he just isn’t given much to do since Rama goes through a pretty traditional cop movie character arc. He questions his values and loyalties, remembers why he joined the force in the first place and gets too old for this shit, but Uwais makes him identifiable and likable enough a character to set him apart from the cop and robber caricatures that dominate most of the movie.
Full disclosure. The Raid is a very good movie if not a great one. It’s absolutely worth seeing (especially if you can catch it on a big screen) and it’s always exciting to see a flick made on the cheap draw outside the lines and do well for itself.
“This is the first time in history that an Indonesian movie has been screened in theaters in the United States, Canada and Australia.” said producer Ario Sagantaro. “We are extremely proud.” Doesn’t that must make you feel all warm and fuzzy?