‘A stone-cold masterpiece’: The Raid is one of the best action flicks ever made | Film

In a little over a decade, The Raid has established itself as an action movie classic. The fierce Indonesian film raised eyebrows upon its release in 2011, thanks to its high levels of violence and the mind-boggling martial arts skill of its cast. Gaining fans far outside the reach of a cult movie, many of the stars of The Raid have gone on to appear in everything from Star Wars to Mortal Kombat to John Wick.

The Raid opens as a squad of police officers descend on the headquarters of a notorious drug lord in downtown Jakarta. We meet new recruit Rama (Iko Uwais), who is part of the team being led by Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno). Their objective is simple: to arrest underworld kingpin Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) and his two trusted guards, Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and the fearsome Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian).

Unfortunately for the cops, they find themselves in a hole when their presence is almost immediately revealed. The criminal gang blocks off the exits and traps them on the fifth floor – too high to climb down and too far from their target. Over the building’s loudspeaker, Tama announces that any tenants who help to kill the cops will be allowed to live there rent free. As the operation is not exactly above board, the police can’t call for backup – their only choice is to fight their way up and out.

The director, Gareth Evans, who is Welsh, originally intended to make a documentary about the Indonesian martial art Pencak silat but instead had the much better idea of showcasing it in action movies. With his debut feature, Merantau, under his belt, The Raid is where Evans fine-tuned his film-making to perfection.

Barely 10 minutes have passed before the kinetic, handheld camerawork puts us slap bang in the centre of a plot that feels like a video game: the cops have to fight their way through hundreds of thugs and up literal levels. Despite the blistering speed, The Raid skilfully maintains total coherence. It’s a high achievement in an action movie landscape that was, at the time, dominated by post-Bourne Supremacy fight scenes that were edited in ways impossible to comprehend.

A soon-to-be chiropractic nightmare … Uwais, Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog and Donny Alamsyah as Andi. Photograph: Sony Pictures Classics/Sportsphoto/Allstar

The excellent action sequences are thanks to Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who double as actors and fight choreographers. Everyone in the building knows how to handle themselves, from the cops down to the lowliest drug runner, so the action is a ferocious blend of Hong Kong-style fight cinema and filthy gore, sometimes verging on horrific. Jugulars are punctured, knees and elbows crunch brittle cartilage and bad guy’s spines are routinely crumpled. There are some chiropractic nightmares.

The Raid careens from a lightning-fast punch-up, to ballistic shootout and back again, with no time to breathe. The cops need to be inventive and quick thinking. When trapped inside an apartment, the squad escapes by first hacking through the floor with an axe, then blasting out of the room with a gas-propelled fridge.

Highlights, in a movie full of them, include a scene in which Mad Dog pauses amid the chaos to explain why he doesn’t like guns, describing “squeezing the trigger is like ordering takeout” – before unleashing a maelstrom of brutal physicality upon an unsuspecting copper.

Watching The Raid for the first time was like discovering John Woo or Jackie Chan all over again. Combined with its gnarly sequel, The Raid 2, and the vicious The Night Comes For Us, Indonesia might well be wresting the action movie crown from Hong Kong. Thirteen years since The Raid was released, it still feels refreshing in an era of bloated, ego-driven Hollywood mega franchises. It doesn’t feel like hyperbole to call it a stone-cold masterpiece.

  • The Raid is streaming on Kanopy in Australia, Apple TV+ in the UK and Paramount+ in the US. For more recommendations of what to stream in Australia, click here