The Raid: This Indonesian action romp has lost the plot

Art & Lit Screen

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that trailers are at their core simply marketing. It’s all too easy to get swept up in the hype they create. Sometimes, blame for the resulting disappointment rests on the audience who created expectations far exceeding anything the film could realistically aim for. Other times, the blame lies squarely with the marketers. When the only five funny jokes in the comedy were all in the trailer, it’s right for you to feel deceived. And when The Raid’s entire marketing strategy can be summed up in their teaser poster proclaiming “1 minute of romance, 100 minutes of non-stop carnage”, it’s not unreasonable for you to expect non-stop carnage for the almost all of the film. Which isn’t what you get.

Somewhere in production somebody decided that the film needed a plot. And that it needed to be the driving force of the film. But nobody decided to give it a good one.  So, to summarise: Rama is the protagonist of the film and rookie member of a SWAT squad. He’s got a pregnant wife and a father. In his squad is Sergeant Jaka, a strict leader, and Lieutenant Wahyu, who is the most senior member even though he’s not in charge. You can tell he’s the most senior because he wears a polo shirt instead of the SWAT uniform. They have to go into a tower and evict the crimelord on the top floor, who has a private army and a whole heap of tenants motivated to fight for him. That is a great foil for an action film, and the first chunk of it delivers well. The initial infiltration is filled with a sense of foreboding, helped by some very immersive sound design that sucks you in. When the police are rumbled and the shit hits the fan, it gets even better. The opening gunfights are tense with the characters all feeling distinctly vulnerable, and the martial arts are truly spectacular. Choreographed to perfection, scene after scene has you marvelling at the creativity of the action and the energy of it. Unlike so many recent action films it’s very cleanly shot with the camera pulled back a reasonable distance and kept stable, allowing you to fully appreciate the spectacle you’re witnessing. The effect is breathtaking.

Then the brakes suddenly get applied and you have to wait until the director feels that enough plot has happened to justify punching and kicking again. Actors stand in a room and talk at each other. The story is ridiculous, the dialogue is poor and the actors were (quite rightly) chosen for their martial arts skills rather than their ability to deliver lines. The film gets boring, a word I never envisaged using for this review. And when the action starts up again, it’s tainted by the story. You realise that you’re supposed to be connecting about these characters, and caring about whether they live or die. And all you do care about is how that man was able to pull off that flip upside down and whether he’ll do it again.

The ending comes as a completely generic anti-climax that forgets the action for the story and sacrifices all of the elements that makes the film unique and enjoyable. Despite containing some of the best moments I’ve experienced in a cinema this year, it fails as a whole by focusing on a worthless plot. And it feels disingenuous that despite such emphasis on story in the film it’s ignored in the marketing. Instead, they want you to think about the amazing way a man can fly backwards and fling a man’s neck onto a broken doorframe. It’s a shame that the film you imagine from the trailer is such a different vision to the one the director holds.

Jonathan Looms