Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Raid: there's only so much beating a body can take

When I didn't get the chance to see The Raid at the cinema, I felt a bit disappointed. It got good word of mouth, and critics who would normally cross the street to avoid a beat-em-up were saying nice things about it. Quite why the Hidden City fleapit felt that it ought to give the space to whatever kid-flick it showed instead, I couldn't fathom. So then I waited for the DVD to drop to a point where I could justify buying a copy, which took a reassuringly long time. The longer it took to discount the thing, the more I thought it would be worth the wait.

So here we are. I suspect that The Raid is going to be hugely influential in action circles for the next little while. I've already seen a whole bunch of films which share DNA with it, notably Dredd, which has the same schtick of a criminal controlled slum block being turned into a copster pot. Does this make it a good film?

That's hard to say. It's a very competent film. The pacing is good, and the director, on only his second time out had to substitute editing for money. There wasn't the budget for real crowd scenes or hordes of extras, so careful staging, tight shots and good audio were used to suggest the crowds he needed. And my word, at first the fight scenes are impressive. And allowing for the fact that I can't speak a word of Indonesian and thus have no way of figuring out whether the acting really makes sense, the principals seem like better actors than Gina Carano was in Haywire

The problem, after a while, was that no matter how well you stage it, no matter how expert the fighters are, a martial arts movie gets pretty samey. It's dudes, beating up other dudes. Every now and then they do something especially acrobatic, but it usually involves someone getting hurt really horribly, so I'm much too old to cheer when it happens. So the movie started to lose me after a bit. The opening stages are quite gripping, as the SWAT team makes its way deeper into the building and the bad guys start picking them off, but it doesn't take long to shave the cast back down to half a dozen martial arts experts and a rotating crowd of crash test dummies for them to dismantle, at which point it started to lose me.

There is one genuinely suspenseful scene, which works because it's almost stationary. The hero is hiding behind a flimsy plaster wall while the Big Bad's loon deputy (he has, for the sake of balance, a complementary non-loon deputy as well) starts punching a machete through the wall to see if there's anything behind it. The blade gets closer and closer and finally grazes along the hero's cheek, slashing it wide open. Then there's a long terrible pause as the loon deputy gets distracted and forgets to pull the machete back out, and the hero tries to wipe his blood off the blade before it can come back out and give away the fact that there's someone bleeding behind the wall. The film could have done with more of that kind of balance; if we'd been given a chance to breathe in between punch-ups, the pauses and the punch-ups would both have had more impact.

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