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My 12 for ’12: The Raid (Redemption) & An Action Aesthetic…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #12

It’s a bit of a stereotype that critics don’t like action movies. It’s one of those handy clichés that gets trotted around whenever some mega-blockbuster brings in a ridiculously large number at the box office after a thrashing from the pundits. I can’t speak for the critics, of course, but I can tell you that the reason I disliked The Bourne Legacy or Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon had nothing to do with an innate dislike of action movies as a genre. I’m a big fan of action movies. However, like any other genre, an action movie needs to be done right.

The Raid does an action movie right.

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I had the pleasure of seeing The Raid at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in February. It took home both the Audience Award and the end-of-festival gongs from The Dublin Film Critics’ Circle, and deservedly so. I will also confess that, sitting in a dark cinema packed at 10am on a Saturday morning, it was easily one of the best cinematic experiences of my life, in that sort of nebulous or intangible way that I can remember going to see Tomorrow Never Dies with my brother and father in Enniskillen or rushing in late to a screening of Casino Royale as the first film I saw with my better half.

Not that that tangent is really related to anything, but that first screening of The Raid was really something spectacular. It earned the movie this place on the list without the necessity of a re-watch. If you can see it with a room of sleep-deprived action-movie junkies, then that is absolutely the best way to watch The Raid. However, if that option isn’t easily available, The Raid is still a damn fine piece of work. I can confidently say that The Raid is the best Indonesian action movie ever directed by a Welshman.

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Here’s the thing, though. Watching The Raid again, several months later, at home with the family, it was still a tremendous piece of work. There’s a wonderful level of craft involved in the construction of The Raid, and I think that’s what marks it as an exceptional action movie. Don’t get me wrong here – it’s not necessarily brilliantly constructed or elaborately plotted. Its characters are more archetypes than individuals and its storyline is one that we’ve seen before. In short, the basic ingredients really aren’t too far removed from your standard action movie fare.

The different is in the execution. The Raid has a stylish kinetic quality that is really impossible to overlook. It might not be as heavily stylised as the martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it is staged just as well. To describe it as “ballet for blokes” would be sexist and trite, but there’s a fantastic level of technical proficiency at work here. Each of the conflicts is constructed in an engaging and fascinating manner, one requiring split-second timing to pull of a routine that is no less impressive than that of a coordinated dance troupe.

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The fighters each move to their own rhythm, and Evans keeps the camera moving in such a way that the action remains graceful without seeming hyper-real. The actions aren’t exaggerated – they are handled with enough confidence that they don’t need to be. The use of objects and scenery might look improvised, but it obviously took a remarkable degree of foresight and planning. This is where simple craft comes in, and The Raid has craft to spare.

At the same time, The Raid manages to elevate itself above so many other contemporary action movies by giving us a sense of consequence. Consequence is, after all, the essence of drama – no matter how serious or pulpy that drama might be. It’s true from the most serious Oscar-worthy drama through to the most disposable slice of cheesy entertainment, and of absolutely everything in between.

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In Django Unchained, for example, the reason that Schultz’s decision to help Django carries weight is because it will have consequences for him. Similarly, the reason that Bilbo’s decision to join the dwarves in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is so important is because we (and he) know the trip could potentially cost him dearly. In Shame, the reason that we worry about Brandon concealing his addiction is because we know that exposing it could have dangerous results.

The reason that the violence in The Raid carries weight is because it has consequences. We know that these aren’t super-humans fighting who never bleed. We hear bones snapping, see skin bursting. The application of this sort of force has dire consequences for our heroes, and so we sit up when the fight occurs. Too many conventional action movies are terrified about unsettling the audience or making them uncomfortable. You could argue that it is a problem with the age ratings in the United States, but I think it’s possible to create an unnerving PG-13 film. (Look at The Dark Knight.)

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It’s this level of visceral follow-through that sets The Raid apart from many films of its ilk. The Hunger Games, for example, should be an uncomfortable exploration of a society that has become desensitised to violence against children. Instead, the film worries so much about upsetting its audience that even the child with a spear stuck through her abdomen dies in a photogenic manner. (As an aside, I wonder if the depiction of consequence-free violence contributes to a culture that is perhaps a bit more indifferent to violence than it once was. After all, I would imagine that presenting violence as clean and sanitary makes it easier for people to imitate.)

The Raid is vicious, aggressive, confident and powerful. It’s the kind of film that mainstream cinema could learn a lot from, and example of sublime execution of a familiar concept producing stunning results. It was easily the action movie of 2012, and one well worth a look for anybody looking for a bit of high-octane action to close out the year.

Check out our 12 favourite films of 2012:

12. The Raid (Redemption)

11. Skyfall

10. Room 237

09. Jeff Who Lives at Home

08. Moonrise Kingdom

07. Silver Linings Playbook

06. The Master

05. Prometheus

9 Responses

  1. Loved it. Great pacing, no nonsense, excellent choreography and countless WTF moments. The movie is like the martial arts it portrays; Pentjak Silat. It can look like dancing but it is all about neutralizing your opponent in the most efficient way possible. My niece was once second at the world championship. I have seen her do a little demonstration where she was surrounded by 5 guys; in what looked like one motion she kicked them all to the ground. This was in her weddingdress after the ceremony.

  2. “The Raid does an action movie right.”

    Said something like that when I eventually got around to see this film. A “tight” action film with not a second wasted. Excellent choice for your 12th film of the year.

  3. I was in that JDIFF screening too, and it’s easily one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure the breathless pacing had everyone glued to the screen after about 5 minutes, and didn’t let them go for the next 90. There were cheers after the hero won a fight, and gasps when somebody died a particularly violent death. Amazing.

  4. The sequel “RAID 2” is being prepared. I am living near the shooting place. It seems that they prepared some thing bigger. There is a HAMMER girl, another Master Silat (Panglipur), many bad guys (mafia boss) who run the city, assasins, more dramatic.

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