Each year there are a few movies at Sundance that become exceptionally hyped, causing mainstream angst while film-lovers await distribution. I take pride in having seen '(500) Days of Summer' and 'Moon' at their Sundance premieres. Although 'The Raid' had already hit the festival circuit a few months before Sundance (it premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival), it's one title that, when I saw it, I walked away with the pride of being able to say, "I saw it at Sundance."
'The Raid' – now known as 'The Raid: Redemption' – is a high-octane action/martial arts flick that makes 'Oldboy' look like a kid's movie. Do you remember that iconic hammer/hallway fight scene in 'Oldboy?' Now, imagine the violence, stylization and jaw-dropping awesomeness of that ferocious scene, only extended for a solid 101 minutes. That's what you're getting with 'The Raid.' While the thought of a highly concentrated action movie may make you fearful of the experience, there's no need to worry. Despite being almost non-stop action, 'The Raid' never loses your attention, it never gets repetitive, and it constantly makes you giggle due to its extreme violence - and, yes, it's exceptionally violent. I never saw the R-rated theatrical cut that Sony Pictures Classics released domestically in April 2012, but I'm glad that the original cut from Sundance is what's featured on the Blu-ray. The required cut footage from the R-rated version has been restored. If this cut held an MPAA rating, it would most likely be NC-17 for a few very quick, disturbingly graphic shots of morbid violence.
The movie opens with a SWAT team in Indonesia prepping for the raid of a 15-story building located in the absolute worst part of the town – an area so bad that the police won't even come within blocks of it. This building serves as headquarters for the biggest crime boss and as the laboratory for the meth he manufacturers and distributes throughout the country. The Boss also raises capital by renting out the apartment units unoccupied by his henchmen and drug mules. Sadly, those dirty run-down apartments are the only ones that some poverty-stricken locals can afford. The SWAT team's plan is to smash their way into the tower, get to The Boss on the 15th floor, and smash their way back down – but it isn't going to be as easy as it sounds. Police have tried taking him alive before, but all police who have ever entered the building were never heard from again. Supposedly, our SWAT team has something working in their favor, intel that will finally make seizing that villain possible.
As expected (and as we want them to), things go awry shortly upon entering the building. After clearing the first six floors, The Boss is tipped off to the intrusion, so he pits all of his tenants and henchmen against the SWAT team. Any tenant who fights against the SWAT team is promised free rent for life, so all hell is about to break loose. (If this premise sounds familiar, that's because it appears identical to the one seen in the trailer for the upcoming Judge Dread reboot, 'Dread.') Let the super-stylized hyper-violent badass action begin.
When the raid first gets shot to hell, our heroes use their guns to fight back. That's how the first third of the movie goes - gunplay at its best. In act two, the remaining members of the SWAT team run out of ammo and begin using other weapons, whatever they can find – knives, batons, machetes, axes and refrigerators. Refrigerators? Yes, refrigerators. Just wait for it. While martial arts plays a decent role in act two, it becomes the main weapon of act three. The changing styles of fighting keep this non-stop action flick from getting boring. But if you hate "Peter and The Chicken" action movies, you'll dread this violent beast.
As I watched 'The Raid' at Sundance, I kept thinking that (then) relatively unknown director Gareth Evans was to Sundance action movies what Duncan Jones was to Sundance science fiction movies. Jones just needed one film to land him on the map, 'Moon,' then he got a great mainstream studio gig that landed him 'Source Code.' I predict that Evans is about to do the same with action movies. 'The Raid' is his 'Moon.'
Believe the hype. 'The Raid' is easily the best action movie in years. It's 100 percent worth the wait.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Classics has placed the unrated edition of 'The Raid: Redemption' on a Region A/B BD-50 in a blue vortex keepcase. The disc specs are fantastic, but it's a travesty how ugly the cover art is. The box art is so bad that it's distracting, appearing like something you'd find in the bottom of a $5 discount bin at Walmart. The printed-on "Certified Fresh" Rotten Tomatoes logo is a joke. Sony should have followed the lead of other studios who have also recently advertised their "fresh" titles, but by printing it on a sticker outside the packaging. The artwork printed on the backside of the cover art sheet – which can be seen through the inside of the open case – is also poor. Upon inserting the disc, after watching two load screens, a Sony vanity reel and a promo for Sony Blu-ray, nearly half a dozen skippable trailers play: 'Looper,' 'Starship Troopers: Invasion,' 'Resident Evil: Damnation,' 'The Words' and 'Safety Not Guaranteed.'
Sony has given 'The Raid' a 1.78:1 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. While I know that many will complain about the noir-ish darkness of the movie, I can attest to the fact that 'The Raid' appears almost exactly as it did on the big screen at Sundance, only clearer.
With the image mostly appearing black and dingy, there aren't too many shots that allow for great detail. Black levels are strong for the most part, but a few occasions feature contrast changes from shot to shot. Our SWAT heroes occasionally find themselves in outside-facing rooms with windows and it's during these scenes of bright(er) lighting that we notice that high details can be seen – but there aren't an excessive amount of those shots. The unique hand-held shooting style (watch the special features to learn about the "steering wheel" that made it so original) causes the fast motion to rack in and out of focus, which of courses causes for some shots to not be perfectly focused, i.e. detailed.
Knowing that the extreme physicality of the film's content would cause for a lot of botched takes, Evans decided to shoot digitally so that he could place the budget that the cost of film stock would have chewed up into other areas – like sharp CG splattering blood effects. The picture quality may not be the brightest, but it's smooth and clear.
Compression flaws such as artifacts, aliasing and banding aren't an issue. Digital noise isn't present, so there's no need for the use of DNR. Edge enhancement also isn't applied.
More audio options are presented than I knew existed for 'The Raid.' When the film premiered at Toronto, it was set to the original score composed by the sound designers, but when the film premiered at Sundance, it featured the new score composed by Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) and Joe Trapanese. Both versions are presented in lossless formats here. The original score with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is only available with the original Indonesian/Bahasa dialog track, but the new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio score is featured with both the Indonesian/Bahasa and English tracks. Also included with the Shinoda/Trapanese score are 5.1 Dolby Digital Portuguese and Spanish tracks. Are you still with me?
'The Raid' opens with our hero beating the hell out of a large punching bag. Each hit carries a rich deep bass and a thump that resonates in your chest. The next scene shows the fully-loaded SWAT vehicle hauling through drizzling streets at dawn. As the tires cut their way through the soaked streets, you can hear the constant splash of tires pushing the water away accompanied by highly dynamic rain falling around the room. The scene that follows takes place within the SWAT van. The dialog of the debriefing has that hollow sound created by voices in a large hard-walled empty space. The rattling rumbles of the heavy van also carry naturally.
Whenever the subject matter of the movie warrants amazingly mixed audio - like in the previously described scenes - it does so masterfully. The only flaw is how underwhelming the non-action scenes are compared to these two and the other 90 percent of the movie. After these two opening scenes, it isn't until the raid gets underway that we are given more drool-worthy top-notch audio mixing again. On several occasions, both Mrs. Hickman and I mistakenly thought that someone was opening our front door when it was really an in-movie off-screen door that was being opened. The surround and rear channels have the potential to be lit up with astonishing effects, but only when the action calls for it. The non-action scenes are pretty flat - but it's a good thing there aren't many of them.
For what it's worth, with so many options presented, I found the lossless Shinoda/Trapanese score with the Indonesian/Bahasa track and English subtitles to be the most impressive and awesome combination.
It's not often that tiny indie movies are presented with loads of special features, so 'The Raid' Blu-ray truly is a treat. Minute-for-minute, the special features are actually longer than the movie itself – twice as long if you mark the commentary up with the special features.
'The Raid' is easily one of the best action films of all time. Like the other greats, it not only features tension and unforgettable violence-filled stunts, but a solid little story. Watching just the first fifteen minutes will make you a fan. Mrs. Hickman wasn't enjoying all of the brutal violence, but she was so quickly invested in it that she couldn't stop watching. She was glued until the end. With dark and dismal lighting, the video quality seems to be under scrutiny – but having seen it at Sundance, I can personally vouch that 'The Raid' looks exactly like it did on the big screen. It's a cheap movie, so of course it's wasn't made with the best production values. Sure, it's such a dark-looking movie that details don't run rampant, but that truly adds to the tone and tension of the movie. Until Screen Gems (a Sony shoot-off studio) produces the American remake, this is the best that 'The Raid' is going to look. What isn't going to get better with a remake is the near-perfect audio mix featured on this disc. Talk about a strong dynamic mix – this is the best-sounding new Blu-ray that I've heard in a while. Add in the large amount of special features (which most indie movies don't have) and you've got one kick ass Blu-ray.