For once, believe the hype: This is one of the best action films of the last decade, though it’s likely more bloody and brutal than your average moviegoer can tolerate. Director Gareth Evans works with a half-dozen of the most charismatic actors you’ve never seen in a deceptively — and ingeniously — simple story concerning a team of Indonesian cops invading the lair of a thoroughly depraved gang of criminals. The bad guys share what appears to be reasonably priced house in a neighborhood that seems safe — as long as you’re habitually smoking heroin, or working for their mob. The cops battle their way to the top, where arch-villain Tama (Ray Sahetapy) sits at a bank of old-school monitors, issuing snakelike sibilant commands to the inhabitants of the Jakarta crime co-op. But this film also features perhaps the gnarliest henchman of all time: Rama (played by the lithe Iko Uwais), who must also foil the oily-locked super-villain Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), whose sheer brand of bad-assery simply cannot be subdued by one fighter, no matter how truehearted.
The film works a slow-but-steady build, beginning in Rama’s peaceful home, where we first see him working out and soothing his pregnant wife with the promise that he will “bring him back.” We assume this means vanquishing evil Tama, but his underlying motivation and those of his fellow officers remain mysterious until the compelling conclusion.
Raid offers martial arts inventiveness built around the same premise as Bruce Lee’s infamous unfinished art film The Game of Death, in which Lee fought up five levels of a pagoda against foes both daunting and ridiculous (among them Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Raid’s beauty derives from its simple updating of the concept and gradually accelerating set pieces. Fights become longer, more intricate, and as Tama gets closer to the goal, poetically bloody like the gruesome chic of Sonny Chiba films. With gorgeous camera work over a palette of blues, whites, and startling bloody reds, Raid courageously wants to be awesome. And it is.