Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Raid: Redemption - How Computer Games Ruined Movies

The Raid is a bad movie. Sorry to be all contrarian but there it is. It is a really bad movie and is bad in many ways. The most offensive ways it is bad are a) it is boring and b) it advances a horrible sociopolitical agenda. If you liked this movie it is probably because you are dumb and did not notice that it was very boring and the loose moral framework it attempts to use to justify the interminable violence is really ugly and stupid.

In The Raid, the Indonesian equivalent of a SWAT team raids a tower block because it is full of criminals and being a criminal is basically the worst fucking thing you can be. As a criminal your death is not just necessary, it is so necessary as to supercede due process or even any real understanding of what kind of criminal you are and why. We are told, vaguely, that these criminals are murderers, rapists and drug addicts. That’s probably the broadest swathe of the law breaking spectrum short of including music pirates and terrorists. All these wretched, inhuman monsters live in this borderline derelict tower block because there’s a crime lord guy on the top floor and he rents the place out as a sort of exclusive residence for ne’er-do-wellers.

Oh but then it turns out that there also some normal people there, like children, and a man with a sick wife, who somehow manage to live amongst these psychotic, drug-addled killers. Whatever. All that matters is that (most of) the people that live there are bad. We know they are bad because they wear shitty clothes and live in squalor. In one early scene, as armed police storm into people’s apartments without warning and handcuff them with cable ties, we are treated to a shot of the shit-soaked trousers of a drug addict. Disgusting. God I hope someone kills all these gross people. Oh cool, turns out that’s basically the whole movie.

It’s not unfair to say that if you want to watch The Raid but don’t want to have to actually watch The Raid because it is a bad movie, you can get an equivalent experience by looping the hallway shootout scene from Leon for about 2 days, interspersed with some pro pen-twiddling footage, but you have to imagine the pen is like some skanky drug addict and the hand is a noble hero cop.

When Orwell wrote about the vision of a boot stamping on a human face forever, he was probably writing about this film because that is basically all that happens and it lasts forever. Occasionally the 5th or 6th or whatever wall keeps the action and the “story” separate begins to leak and some amount of plot development seeps in. In these moments, the stupefying whirling of knives, limbs or entire bloodied bodies is replaced by lots of growling and dick waving and rank pulling and talking about the lives of MY MEN. There’s an interesting symmetry here because this happens to be as boring and predictable as the fighting.

I mean, its 2012 and someone has made a martial arts movie which contains a scene where the protagonist is cornered and outnumbered by a mob of expendable unnamed bad guys and there’s a tense moment where everyone just stares at each other and then the bad guys start yelling and running at the good guy and somehow wind up fighting him one by one and then he wins. I dunno I guess I sort of assumed that this sort of shit went out of fashion the same time I lost interest in it (age 15 years old).

But a movie being really boring and predictable isn’t enough of a heinous crime to make me feel like I have to write a review about it. No, it has to be kind of offensive in some way and being a tiresome, pious lefty, this film’s approach to violence, law enforcement, militarism and the value of human life offends me. Not in a Mary Whitehouse way. Just in a sort of really disappointed in you kind of way.

Inevitably, the film is head over fucking tits in love with the police and guns and being macho. At the end of the film, one character finally decides he can’t take this bullshit anymore and decides to blow his fucking brains out. I guess maybe he was supposed to be the one we relate to, but I was already considering opening an artery about an hour and forty minutes earlier so too late bro. Anyway, the camera pours over the body of this revolver being pressed against quivering flesh and its pretty gross really. Here’s a guy about to kill himself and the most interesting thing about that is the gun he is going to use to do it. Turns out its out of bullets anyway (spoiler lol), which is actually a recurring thing in The Raid and I can only assume meticulous detail was paid to how many rounds are discharged by each revolver so that you can count along at home and get a massive kick out of it if you’re some sort of sociopathic gun-worshiping ubernerd. In which case you are basically this film’s key demographic anyway.

The first fatality in the film, clocking in about 20 seconds before the expiration of my will to live, is some guy sat out back of this building watching TV and reading a magazine. I guess maybe he’s supposed to be a spotter or something but he seems pretty chill. Then a cop sneaks up behind him and chokes him to death with garrote wire. Not to be a buzz kill or anything but even if he is some kind of drug addled rapist murder spotter who is going to raise the alarm if he spots the cops, surely if you can sneak up on him you could just, I don’t know, arrest him and charge/release him later? Rather than just crushing his windpipe while he’s just chilling out totally unarmed and not posing any kind of direct threat?

Right after this, we get a classy montage of drug addled scum being variously cable tied, beaten up, and having their mouths duct-taped shut in bed as the police storm through the building. I don’t get why these guys are OK to live but that guy out front wasn’t. Maybe murdering people in their own homes is verboten according to some sort of psycho-cop honour system. Oh wait, that’s the entire premise of the film.

Later on there’s a cool bit where the cops run into a kid in the hallway. Incredibly, they manage to resist the urge to just riddle him with bullets and instead tell him not to do anything stupid, which in itself is kind of a stupid idea because all the cool kids know not to trust the police. He’s a cool kid so he runs off and the cops shoot him through a door. We see the bullet in slow motion as it rips through the wood and then through his neck.

Some weak minded sorts might feel there are some pretty heavy moral questions that arise when a child is deliberately killed by law enforcement personnel. The film is steadfast however in its belief in the ineffable nature of the divine apparatus of state sanctioned violence. You see, the child just has time to warn another child that the police are here, setting off an alarm which alerts the whole building and puts The Mission in jeopardy, in a stroke brilliantly illustrating that the killing of a child is totally necessary for the greater good of militarised policing. It doesn’t quibble with the little things, like how comes there are kids in a building full of hardened criminals? Are these children also murderers, rapists and drug addicts? Are they being coerced? Do they have families living there? Did the police know that there were likely to be children in the building? Shouldn’t they take measures to avoid killing kids?

All that comes if it is one cop gets a bit angry, but then tears off in pursuit of the second child, narrowly missing his chance to also become a child murderer. Too bad mate, better luck next time. The incident is never addressed again.

That said, adults don’t fare much better. They pour in from around corners, behind doors, through the ceiling or from just out of frame. They are an unending river of bodies waiting to be shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, have their heads smashed into walls, throats crushed, backs and noses and various limbs broken, to be assaulted and executed in many and varied ways. The onslaught is at times so relentless that the movie goes beyond glamorizing extreme violence, it actually makes it boring. The sheer scale of the horde feels as if it dwarfs even the Amorphous Angry Black Mob from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the previous record holder for Expansive Mass of Dehumanised Cannon Fodder.

Roger Ebert has it right when he says the film is like a video game. The same tawdry logic that underpins Man vs Human Wave games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor is at the core of this film’s being. There was even a moment when, after the music swelled heroically as one of the protagonists graphically slit a man’s throat with a broken tube light, I swear I heard the Xbox Achievement Unlocked sound. Whether I imagined it or not, it wouldn’t be out of place. Having made it that far through the movie I should have gotten something back at least.

The effect is of course that The Enemy, whoever they happen to be, are not to be mourned or understood or viewed as human at all. This is nothing especially new, but The Raid, like most video games, can scarcely even bring itself to humanise the protagonists. Yeah yeah, there’s some set up where we see the main hero cop praying at home, working out and then strapping on his Glock before kissing his pregnant wife goodbye and having a poignant moment with his old man. But out of 20 cops, only a handful have names, less than that have any real character outside of the role they play in the movie. A character’s goodness or badness is defined, not by anything about the character themselves, but purely by which team they are on. Essentially, being a cop, even a cop who murders children and assaults people in their homes, makes you good, and being a criminal, even if you are just addicted to an illicit substance, makes you bad. So it's not just the endless, inescapable violence and brutality of the film that is dehumanising, it is also the laziness of its writing.

This might not seem like a big deal, after all it’s just a dumb movie for dumb people, but the problem is how this crude sketch of morality reinforces received attitudes about things happening in the real world, from police brutality to imperialism. It’s not hard to read the movie as essentially apologia for NATO’s current obsession with removing dictators from select countries through the application of overwhelming and largely indiscriminate force. In The Raid, the suspicion that even the innocent dead probably did something to deserve it is realised again and again.

Of course, there’s plenty of other levels to how dreadful this movie is. There are, at most, four female characters in the whole movie. The two most prominent, the Hero’s Wife and the Sick Wife of Sympathic Hell-House Resident, are only seen lying stricken in bed, dependent upon the protection of their men. They don’t speak. The only woman who speaks is a drug addict who is sat by her bed who is started by the protagonist bursting through her window. The other female character may not actually be female because she was involved in a fight, and during fight scenes the camera begins to have a seizure and jerks around so much its hard to see who exactly it is that is getting their head caved in with a filing cabinet. In any case, it’s not particularly edifying that the only female character to be seen standing up in the movie gets her face pulped by the male lead. Maybe there needs to be some kind of Bechdel test for martial arts movies revolving around how many named women kick the shit out of each other for reasons other than trying to woo the male lead etc.

Then there’s the similiarly predictable racial element. Is it just my guilty white liberal imagination or were the protagonists all substantially more caucasian looking than the antagonists? Does it matter that the writer/director of this Indonesian martial arts movie is actually a tubby white guy from Wales? Does that say something about exploitation and representation?

Who the fuck knows. No one should even care because no one should watch this stupid shitty movie it is literally the most boring dumbest shit I ever seen God and yeah I know that’s a lot of words I just wrote about a dumb stupid shit film but it’s getting like 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and someone has to do something.