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SXSW 2012: Gareth Evans' 'The Raid' is the best action film since 'Die Hard'

Gareth Evans' "The Raid"


At this point, there’s a good chance that you’ve already heard people singing the praises of Gareth EvansThe Raid (now clunkily titled The Raid: Redemption, but we’re just gonna continue calling it The Raid): for months now, the film—which may, in fact, be the greatest action movie since the original Die Hard—has been making the rounds on the festival circuit, and it’s never played to anything less than a wildly enthusiastic response. Tonight, Evans’ film played as part of the SXSW 2012 lineup. Wanna know more? Read on for our official review, my gentle Examiner readers…

SXSW 2012:  "The Raid" is a must-see, people.  Hell, see it twice.

While I’m not entirely certain that Gareth Evans’ The Raid has played every major film festival in the world at this point, it definitely seems like it’s played a bunch of ‘em. Somehow, though, prior to this evening, the film had yet to grace a screen in Austin, TX.

So, thank God for the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW 2012 will probably end up being remembered for any number of reasons—the opening of the Mondo Gallery, the world premieres of Casa de mi Padre, 21 Jump Street and Cabin in The Woods, the place where Badass Digest’s Film Crit Hulk finally showed his face in public for the first time, and on and on—but chief among them will be this: SXSW brought The Raid to Austin, and we should never stop thanking it for that.

If you’re the type of film geek that follows the happenings at the world’s various film festivals (at this point, it seems as though there’s a new one each month), then you’ve probably already heard a thing or two about Evans’ film. I know I did: long before I’d even seen a trailer, I’d heard that The Raid was one of “the best action movies ever made”, “a major crowd-pleaser” and “packed with brutal, kick-ass violence”. One critic after another has praised the film to me over the past six months (either directly or in reviews that sometimes felt hyperbolic), and so it was with great anticipation that I sat down for the film’s SXSW premiere last night.

Allow me to be the nineteenth to say it: The Raid is almost unbelievably good. It is, indeed, one of the best action films ever made (I think it’s the best of its kind since the original Die Hard), and is, in fact, a “major crowd-pleaser”. I am also happy to report that the film is packed to the gills with brutal, kick-ass violence, just like we heard it was. Anyone who sits down to watch The Raid in the hopes of seeing something spectacularly exciting will not leave disappointed.

The plot’s simple, and that simplicity is one of about a dozen things I loved about the film: in Jakarta, a SWAT team is tasked with entering a 15-story tenement building (actually, it may’ve been 13 floors, but you get the idea) and extracting a ruthless drug kingpin by the name of Tama (Ray Shetapy) who’s taken up residence on the top floor. Led by the ridiculously badass Rama (Iko Uwais), the team’s got a helluva task in front of them: the building’s swarming with bad guys, seemingly an entire team of them on each floor, and all of them appear to be working for—or, at the very least, loyal to—Tama.

The SWAT team fights their way into the building, but only gets as far as the sixth floor before Tama decides to throw down the gauntlet: he jumps on the building’s intercom system and announces that anyone who can completely eliminate the SWAT team before it reaches its goal will be granted lifetime residence in the building, rent-free. As you can imagine, this an immensely appealing offer to the building’s various ne’er-do-wells, and within moments the team is set upon by what appears to be every last martial arts expert in Jakarta.

And that’s…about it: Simple. Elegant. Mind-blowing. The film feels electric and alive, with strong performances and a ton of impressive martial arts work (let it be known that I am not a fan of the martial arts genre; it simply does nothing for me).

Evans stages some truly epic battles here (I can think of at least four off the top of my head, and I know there’s probably twice that number in the film), and he wisely goes way, way out of his way to make each smack-down look completely different from the last; you’re not just seeing two dudes pummel one another in a hallway over and over again.

Now, if Evans had only changed up the “look” of each fight sequence, he’d have had a winner on his hands. But the astounding brutality—and the variety of ways in which this brutality is inflicted—is what really elevates The Raid to classic status. Most action films are content to let the good guys shoot it out with the bad guys, over and over again without a moment spent considering where all that ammo’s coming from.

Here, though, Evans introduces a new element into each new fight scene: knives, axes, machetes, furniture, exploding refrigerators, sniper rifles, and a variety of other weapons are put into play. Though 90% of the film is spent watching dudes kill one another, there isn’t a moment that feels repetitive or redundant because Evans is always changing up the “how” of those kills.

Clearly, Evans was determined to keep things fresh, interesting, and savage from beginning to end, and he more than succeeded. The audience I saw the film with went apesh-t for the film, yelling and cheering and applauding and groaning in all the right spots, and there was a thunderous round of applause at the end of the film (which Evans—who was in attendance—must have been thrilled by), the biggest I’ve heard at a SXSW screening this year.

The good news is, The Raid: Redemption has wrapped up its film festival tour, and is due to start hitting theaters later this month (March 23rd, to be precise). The bad news is, there’s still a sizable portion of American audiences that remain ambivalent about the idea of seeing foreign films. This seems to occur mainly because this kind of audience member “doesn’t like reading subtitles”, but the larger truth is this: middle America can be flat-out lazy when it comes to digesting films that fall outside their normal cinematic diet.

I’d really like to think that The Raid will be one of the few foreign flicks that finds an American audience, because it absolutely deserves it. The flick’s fast, powerful, packed to the rafters with unique fight choreography, some very cool aesthetic choices, and is easily the best action film I’ve seen on a big screen in a long, long time. But, hey, even if the flick doesn’t rake in millions of dollars in release, I have faith that it’ll eventually find its audience on Blu-ray and DVD.

Besides, The Raid proves that Gareth Evans is going to be kicking ass from the comfort of his director’s chair for a long time to come, and that's some of the best news I’ve heard in ages.

My Grade? A

Stay tuned for more from the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, folks! We're going to have a ton of reviews, interviews, and on-site reports for you over the next week, including looks at 21 Jump Street (click for review), Just Like Being There, V/H/S, The Impostor, the opening of the Mondo Gallery (where we'll have an interview with Mondo creative director Justin Ishmael) and much, much more! Get "Subscribed" up top right now so you don't miss anything else!

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