The Raid – Uwais, Evans and kick-ass silat!

iko the raidHow does one go about creating a kick-ass action film these days that makes you sit up and take notice? Take a Welsh Director (Gareth Evans), an Indonesian martial art (silat), throw in a breakout action star (Iko Uwais), then set it in a grimy tower block. Action perfection all the way!

The plot is fairly light. Rookie cop Rama (Uwais) is part of a SWAT team sent in to clean up a drug baron’s tower block. Little does the team know the block is prepared for unwanted visitors, letting them move further inside the building before emphatically closing the trap.

Bring the pain
This film follows most standard action movies. Usual dialogue is observed, ‘We have a situation’, ‘We got company’ etc. What sets it apart are two things: Pencak silat – a super-fast Indonesian martial art that uses knees, fists, elbows, the scenery – anything to hand. Fantastically suited to taking out bad guys in tight corridors.

The other defining factor is Gareth Evans. An up-and-coming Welsh Director with an MA in Scriptwriting. Amazingly, Evans discovered Iko Uwais working as a deliveryman for a phone company. Talk about diamond in the rough.

iko2 the raidKeeping it gritty
Evans does a brilliant job in terms of directing action. Never hiding the fight scenes with clever editing, we get to see every body blow, every killer move. You may say we’ve seen this sort of thing before – and maybe we have – but not in this way. The fights are fast, intense and uncompromising, all of them.

As soon as the bullets run out, the action really comes into its own. Rama squaring off against five guys in a tight corridor is one of the first stand-out scenes. You know the fall-out is going to be brutal. The ultimate fight scene involves Rama and his brother facing off against the drug lord’s number one henchman, Mad Dog. It’s a long final scene, but a mesmerising one.

Script vs action
Considering Evans has scriptwriting qualifications, you’d hope for fresher dialogue. Although it’s understandable he had to scale back production to get it off the ground.

Either way, it’s a fantastic film. A little predictable in terms of dialogue, but utterly engaging on the action front. So heat up the popcorn, crack open some drinks on a Friday night and enjoy!

Natalie Portman’s top 5 performances

natalie portman

natalie portmanThis piece slightly follows on from my recent post on how Hayden Christensen ruined Star Wars. After writing I began to think about the other actors in those films, particularly Natalie Portman and how highly I rate her work.

Other than Leon in 1994, her first major role as an adult actress was Star Wars. She was cast in 1997 – just 3 years after Leon – with the first film out in 1999. That said, I didn’t really become a fan until 2004 and her indie phase.

Her appeal for me is that – in terms of actresses that combine brains and beauty and mix up Hollywood blockbusters with cool, little indie films – she’s one of the best. Let’s look at what I consider to be her best performances.

  1. Black Swan (2010)
    This obviously has to make the top spot. Portman won an Academy award as Best Actress for her role as Nina – perhaps drawing on earlier experience playing characters in Closer and V for Vendetta – she gave a mesmerising, unsettling and yet captivating performance which firmly pushed her into the A list.
  2. natalie portmanLeon (1994)
    What can we say about her performance in this one? Holding her own against big names; Jean Reno, Gary Oldman etc. Without her performance here we may never have had Hanna – a super cool film with Saoirse Ronan. Also, Gareth Evans – Director of critically-acclaimed film The Raid – cited Leon as a major influence.
  3. Garden State (2004)
    I loved her in this – so sweet and vulnerable, yet bubbly and optimistic. A perfect contrast to Zach Braff’s dour character. It’s roles like this that cemented her in my mind as one of my favourite actresses. The ultimate girl-next-door who listens to The Shins and makes you love life!
  4. natalie portmanV for Vendetta (2005)
    She got a hard time for her accent in this – swinging from super posh to cor blimey Dick Van Dyke. However she gave the character – Evey – a perfect mix of strength and vulnerability. Plus how many actresses do you know that would shave their head for a role and end up looking more beautiful?
  5. Closer (2004)
    Released the same year as Garden State and a brave breakaway from her relatively wooden turn in Star Wars (I blame Lucas, he’s known for giving actors little direction or getting much out of them). Here she uses her brilliant mix of vulnerability and sexuality to full effect – although the scene where Jude Law’s character breaks up with her is heartbreaking – how could he? It’s like kicking a puppy, she’s so lovely.

So there’s my list, what do you think? Any missing that you feel should have made the cut?

What’s next for our Natalie?
In terms of future projects, she’s in Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups which is in pre-production. Although he’s known for editing out big actors, so who knows if she’ll appear much in the finished film. Let’s hope so. She currently filming Thor: The Dark World, plus a few rumoured films for 2014.

I’ll leave you with her audition tape from Leon. Worth watching more than once, there’s subtle expressions she gives you might miss first time round. She displays a sharp wit, sassy nature, intelligence and maturity – no wonder she got the part.