Gareth (Huw) Evans' film mostly lives up to the hype. The first two-thirds, in particular, are a dazzlingly confident display of breakneck tension and non-stop action. The contribution of composers Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese to this shouldn't be understated. Their synth score is mesmerising, and articulate enough that they know when to allow the sound to drop out completely to punctuate a scene or lend it an almost fevered, dream like quality.
The opening scenes reminded me off the unsettling atmosphere of early John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York), where you can feel the brooding violence about to burst open. And, when it comes, it's a relentless torrent, giddily adrenalising in choreography and editing. The level of violence has been much-discussed, but Evans isn't particularly interested in lingering on blood and gore (except where it raises tension; the scene where Rama is pinned in place with a machete cutting into his cheek is heart-stopping).
Where The Raid can't quite reach the heights of the all-time best action movies is terms of characterisation and plotting. Evans ensures his script has a number of twists that prevent there being a burn-out from wall-to-wall action. And Iko Uwais is an intense but taciturn presence in the lead role. But the film misses that extra spark, particularly in the final act, where the violence becomes more personal and the character interaction more significant. I'd go as far as to suggest that the two-on-one fight with Yayan Ruhian's Mad Dog is only partially effective. It's clearly designed to be a showstopper, but you're left wondering what the other opponent of Mad Dog is doing when he's dealing with just one. Because the film stops in its tracks for the spectacle, the scene draws attention to its deficiencies in terms of character and narrative. It also seemed that, having been such an endurance test at the outset, accessing drug lord Tama's lair ultimately proves too easy.
The Raid was shot on digital, but rather than looking distractingly pristine as some such films can, this is sometimes a bit noisy and murky (perhaps down to the Blu-ray transfer).