Sundance Review | The Raid

I'm not the best with violence -- I should get that out of the way right now -- but when I heard the buzz-generating Indonesian action movie The Raid would be screening at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, I knew I'd need to put on my Big Girl Pants and dive into a showing. Seriously, one look at the red-band trailer (below) should convince you that the movie seems off-the-charts cool.

I chatted up a few fellow journalists in line, all of whom shot me dually sympathetic and worrisome looks when I mentioned that violence makes me feel barfy. I told them I'd regret it if I didn't give this one a try -- and I hoped the film would live up to my expectations.

Well. If you're a violence-phobe, The Raid will make you pee your pants. And if you're an action-phile, The Raid will make you pee your pants.

This is basically a kitchen-sink combat movie -- in fact, I'm pretty sure there was an actual kitchen sink involved in a few of the kills -- partaking in myriad manner of action setups, showcasing weapon and martial arts skills and utilizing every inch of the film's high-rise apartment complex setting to jaw-dropping effect. The Raid is, if nothing else, a choreography showcase, a John Woo film on steroids, and one of the bloodiest things I've ever seen.

And I'm not even dangling this extra rare morsel just to make you drool: Sony Pictures Classics picked the film up for distribution, and it'll hit theaters March 23.

Luckily for those of you with short attention spans or an aversion to subtitles, the narrative is essentially a formality. That's to say, it's fleshed out enough to make its characters' plights convincing, and give you more than a few chuckles, but never enough to trump their intended goal -- ass-kicking. Lots and lots of ass-kicking.

The Raid wastes little time getting into things: Synth music pounds beneath images of SWAT team members preparing for the day's mission, doing crunches and push-ups, saying prayers, bidding adieu to wives. We're treated to some sleek, stylized overhead shots of the assembled crew in the back of a van, receiving orders from its leader Jaka (Joe Taslim, who turns in a calm, collected performance with moments of insane physicality). Jaka explains that plenty of other teams have attempted to infiltrate the apartment complex run by a mobster and his minions, but none has succeeded. Today, they will be the ones who do it. And they’ll all walk out alive! (Yes, I snorted audibly in the theater when he voiced that sentiment.) What ensues is 101 minutes of the team attempting to carry out those orders.

I knew I was in for it when the big bad boss was introduced, loudly slurping ramen noodles with his henchmen at his side. I braced myself, knowing the goofiness would be made up for in spades -- and it was. Almost enough to catapult me out of my seat, in fact, showcasing his cold cruelty and gruesome sense of humor by juxtaposing dually cringe and laugh-inducing moments. The thing is, I found myself loving it along with the rest of the audience -- uproariously guffawing at every "holy shit" moment laid out before me.

And there were plenty of those. The Raid basically never stops pulsing forward, delivering a continuous build and release of tension. The film's combat almost seems set up in movements: gun, machete and martial arts. And if you want to talk operatic, there's a knifing spree in a hallway that rivals the House of Blue Leaves scene in Kill Bill: Vol 1. Lead SWAT member Rama (Iko Uwais) steals the show as the film progresses, dually showcasing his charm and martial arts talent, and Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog (one of the boss' henchman) is gloriously deadly. Massive props to director Gareth Evans, who clearly knows his stuff when it comes to pacing and shooting choreography. Provided his follow-up doesn't contain A Serbian Film levels of crazy, I'm there.

While I'm sure I had you at "one of the bloodiest things I've ever seen," The Raid is a showcase of both style and substance -- and a movie I'm happy to say was worth the stomach-churning stress caused by its bloodshed. Heck, I'll probably see it again when it comes out in March. It's just that cool.

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