Writer/director Gareth Evans’ full throttle guns-n-fisticuffs Indonesian action flick is a hardcore bloke fest — the kind in which performances are measured by who can best impersonate someone who just murdered their parents with a pickaxe, chased it by drinking a pint of nails then sat down to watch three hours of lawnmower informercials.

In The Raid that archaic concept we called a “story” is nigh-on nonexistent but when Evans’s ferocious pace kicks in — and boy does it kick, flail, bleed, break — the target demographic won’t care one fractured shin.

A group of 20 elite cops arrive to storm an apartment building deep in Jakarta’s slums where a singlet-clad mob boss mills about on the top floor, peering into greasy TV screens monitoring the rundown 30 floor edifice, a sort of Sliver room on a budget. The group of cops, led by Rama (Iko Uwais), file in. Mob boss locks them inside and summons his minions to collect their bodies. Fighting ensues. A lot of it.

Spatially The Raid resembles a video game, the players/characters literally moving up and down levels. It’s Donkey Kong on ‘roids crossed with Call of Duty meets martial arts ballet ran through a filter of blood and sweat at 24 bone crunches a second. Loud, dirty, throbbing, heavy duty stuff, tailor cut for those who want action fast and furious and universes away from Vin Diesel’s shiny scalp, which by comparison belongs to a land of pixies and rainbows and that gum drop house on lollypop lane.

Which is to say, The Raid is not grandma friendly. It’s retina-piercingly violent (sometimes literally). The film’s MA rating — contrasted with the R classification slapped onto director Steve McQueen’s recently released sex addict character study Shame — is a potent demonstration of the absurd moral weight the censors give sex over violence.

The action is repetitive. Every fist whack, every knee to the face, every machete to the, well, whatever, is repeated ad nauseum. The film tinkers on the precipice of monotony but Evans keeps it on the right side of the line, directing with frenetic aplomb, cutting every scene fast and thrashing, cameras keeping pace with the martial arts juggernauts in their scope.

A trite twist involving a concealed relationship between two characters is shoehorned into the story late in the game, unconvincingly tacked on to give the film broader accessibility, but no matter. The Raid is all about rhythm and visceral responses. It’s also one of the best paced action movies in years.

The Raid’s Australian theatrical release date: March 22, 2012. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey