2012 in film has been the sort of year, for me, where the best films have not been the most memorable. Three films stand out in terms of memorability; TED – a one joke movie about a teddy bear that can talk and also smoke, take drugs, drink and is consistently horny, made by the makers of Family Guy and memorable mostly for two great cameos. Killer Joe – a film with so many flaws that you can list them as you watch it, but the central performances are so great that you don’t care. If Matthew McConaughey doesn’t get an Oscar nod for this then quite frankly he’s been robbed. To my mind Killer Joe is the most chilling on screen character since Mitchum’s Harry Powell and that is a comparison I do not make lightly. Finally, and the subject of my ‘best of 2012’ is The Raid.
If you haven’t seen The Raid I recommend that you do, although perhaps only if you are a lover of action film making in its purest form. The Raid is action stripped of all unnecessary baggage – cat and mouse action – it is just you, a raw pulsating nerve of never ending tension and an escalation of brutal, balletic martial arts fighting that involves a lot of elbows.
Indy Datta has already explained why he picked Judge Dredd as his best of 2012, and notes that the premise is very similar to The Raid’s – high rise run by a drug overlord, the police raid it, the police get trapped inside, police vs drug overlord, and the many, many violent thugs that live in the building with said overlord, with the odds firmly stacked against the police. Personally I found Dredd a soulless, glossy, tribute to nilhistic violence and I left the cinema feeling uncomfortable and unsatisfied; not so with The Raid.
The Raid has heart and conscience and these are represented by Rama, played by Iko Uwais. In this film you know from the opening frame that there is no moral perfection. Every character has secrets, flaws, hidden truths, and the police are shown to be as morally compromised as the criminals. Rama however transcends this, and as the film progresses his character’s motivation is shown to be purer than most. Not a terribly complex or clever character or narrative arc, it is true, but it is well handled, and for this director Gareth Evans deserves credit.
Indeed Gareth Evans deserves a lot of credit for the success of this film. Too many directors appear to believe that whizzing the camera around to classic Star Trek-like shakiness is the best way to shoot action. I do not know why so few comprehend that after hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of rehearsal and years of training their stunt men and action stars can be relied upon to provide all the thrills that the audience requires if the audience are just allowed to see them in action. Culprits worthy of note are the woeful shooting of Jet Li in action in Romeo Must Die, any action sequence in Nolan’s Batman Begins and the deeply, deeply bad action sequences by J.J.Abrams in his 2009 Star Trek.
Evans, however, has the hallmarks of a master. I am not sure how a Welshman ended up making Asian martial arts cinema in Asia, but I, for one, am excited to see more. At the time of watching The Raid I was sure that Evans had opted for a wide angle and a ‘set-up the camera and leave it there to shoot it all’ approach. In fact he didn’t. The camera fair whizzes around, with shots from every angle and every perspective, but Evans uses those angles to best display the mastery of his cast in the art of pencak silat, (a traditional Indonesian martial art that apparently requires much use of the elbow and is as brutal as it is beautiful) and as a result every sinew can be seen, every crunch felt and every bead of sweat is understood by his audience.
Speaking of sinew and crunch, note should be made of the chief cat in this film, Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian. Mad Dog is a small, skinny, dangerous, rabid beast that, from the moment you meet him, you just know is the nemesis of any unlucky soul that his gaze lands upon. It is a masterful performance by Ruhian, who is actually an instructor in pencak silat and a choreographer rather than an actor. He has appeared in two of Evans’ films now; let’s hope we see more of him because he is terrifyingly majestic to watch.
The Raid is Evans’ third film. He is presently making his fourth, Berandal, with Iko Uwais and The Raid is due a Hollywood remake which Evans is apparently involved in. But I wouldn’t recommend waiting for the remake when the original can be picked up for a bargain £6.50 on Amazon and if you buy it today you can watch it over the Christmas holidays!
Favourites of 2012 (in no particular order of preference):