Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Review Revue: THE RAID

Just because a film plays well at a festival doesn’t mean it’s going to play well everywhere. We can all think of examples of movies that made big impressions on the crowds in Park City, or Cannes, or wherever, and didn’t make a similarly big impressions on mainstream audiences. So when you see a movie receive wild, ecstatic praise at a festival, you always have to keep that in the back of your mind. Was some part of the positive response a reaction to the combination of too little sleep and too much alcohol? Or will this thing travel?

THE RAID, a ferocious Indonesian action movie from director Gareth Evans (MERANTAU), has so far. It got a hugely positive response at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, where it won best of the fest’s Midnight Madness sidebar, and now it’s chalked up a hugely positive response at Sundance as well. It invaded Park City, physically assaulted the crowd, blitzed their senses, and left them battered, dazed, and wondering if there were any other synonyms for raid I forgot in that tortured, awkward sentence.

Not much plot to report here; THE RAID is an action film, pure and simple. A SWAT team invades a fifteen story building, and battles their way from the bottom to the top in order to arrest the big boss. This red-band trailer gives you a taste of just how visceral and intense those battles get. By the way, if you’re under 17 and anyone asks, I told you not to watch this and you did anyway. You’re not taking me down with you, you hypothetical, surprisingly film literate underage punk!

THE RAID went over like gangbusters at Toronto — you see what I just did there? With the gang and the busting? Nevermind. — and it struck again at Sundance. Up and down the line, critics are declaring THE RAID the next big thing in action cinema. Devin Faraci from Badass Digest says “there is no doubt that THE RAID is one for the pantheon, a truly great and amazing action film that will be revisited for generations. It’s an action masterpiece.” Todd Gilchrist from The Playlist calls it “an action-lover’s dream, precisely because it pitches the choreography at a thrilling but believable level that prevents viewers from succumbing to an overdose of kicks and punches.” And Germain Lussier from /Film says the film is “a ton of fun” with a new style of Indonesian martial arts that you haven’t seen before (assuming you’re not, like, Indonesian). He also notes that if you’re curious about the film but you hate reading subtitles, you don’t need to wait for THE RAID’s inevitable English language remake — the characters are far too busy beating the crap out of each other to waste time on frivolities like talking.

The sole voice of dissent I’ve read on THE RAID comes courtesy of Kristopher Tapley from In Contention, who enjoyed THE RAID, but only to a point. “There are a ton of intriguing visual flourishes and storytelling innovations throughout,” he writes, “but the various fight sequences began to blur together and felt less and less creative as the film wore on. At some point prior to a big two-on-one climactic brawl, I started to glaze over a little bit.”

I don’t want you to glaze over from all these uninterrupted words so here’s a clip from THE RAID, which is appealingly litle “Four-on-One”:

Despite Tapley’s misgivings, I can’t wait to see this film — and fortunately, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing THE RAID in American theaters on March 23rd, so I won’t have to wait long. We’ll know soon enough how well that festival buzz travels.

To find more festival screenings of THE RAID, go to Sundance.org.