The Raid is one of those movies I should have caught in the theater. Action front-to-back, it’s a film that I don’t really care about subtle exposition with (because if I did I’d hate this film). But don’t be mistaken: The Raid does not lack in technique.
As opposed to a hyper-active editing style that hides flaws, director Gareth Evans is smart to let his star Rama (Iko Uwais) shoulder the action load. Oddly enough, I found myself counting how long shots lasted while watching The Raid.
I’ve mentioned Average Shot Length in here before (ASL). On one hand, it’s a supremely boring exercise that totally kills the enjoyment of a film. Totally kills it. On the other hand, it’s a worthwhile analytical tool for pacing, overall style, and what necessarily controls the flow of the story (read: the edit versus, say, the action).
ASL for The Raid was probably somewhere in the 3.5 – 4 second range. That’s pretty damn long consider the sheer amount of fight sequences in here. For a 101 minute film, it’s probably 75 minutes of action.
Take another modern action film. The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, a Transformers film, etc. The action sequences are going to drastically shrink that ASL probably to somewhere around 1 second, 2 max. What’s it matter?
Well, for one, it means that The Raid has a star that can actually, flawlessly perform the stunts, so there’s no need to edit around poor execution or a stunt double. It also means that the fight itself is spectacle, and not the fact that there is a fight. Meaning: while there’s a narrative goal in The Raid it’s secondary to each individual skirmish. Where in a DKR the individual fights are all traditionally dramatic stepping stones to the climax.
Not only does Evans not edit a ton, he also doesn’t over-move his camera. There are some truly expressive moves in here. Evans frequently uses the idea of an exaggerated, moving POV. Where something dramatic will be about to happen – normally that someone is about to open a door in this film – and the camera will glide towards the obstacle as seen through a character’s eyes.
Because The Raid takes place almost entirely in one building, Evans has to do some real work to make one, largely vertically interesting space remain interesting. He does so not only with a strong variety of angles that frequently give us more information than what the protagonist(s) has (the positioning of enemies), but also by often emphasizing empty spaces – post-fight. A hallway littered with bodies, a shattered door, a room post-explosion all are much calmer, generally shot with a steadier camera, and frequently feel like a space entirely different from that in which the fight took place.
Roger Corman’s controversial 1962 film gives a real peek at what could have been. Not that Corman has anything to regret with his career. He’s one of the most famous producers of all time, having invigorated an independent and New American cinema.
Still, The Intruder shows a side of Corman entirely different from Death Race 2000 or The Trip. Starring a young – and wholly serious – William Shatner as Adam Cramer, a racist come into a newly integrated southern town intent on stirring up trouble, The Intruder recalls the same vocal demagogue as Kazan’s 1957 film A Face in the Crowd.
While Kazan’s film may have been metaphor for HUAC, The Intruder is clearly reacting to the burgeoning civil rights movement.
Corman’s style is pretty unspectacular. He’s no Kazan, but the script by Charles Beaumont and Shatner’s performance are so strong that the standard aesthetics are acceptable.
The largest visual signatures Corman puts on his work are based around reaction shots. Here’s the middle of a right to left dolly along the face of various town racists as they grimly watch black students enter the local high school for the first time:
Then again when Cramer and Vi (Jeanne Cooper, best known for The Young and the Restless, in a really great turn) look out their window at a burning cross:
Both of these have a bit of panache. The dolly in the first one along the motionless figures is effective and a near tableau. The image directly above looks like it could be a still from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with its low angle, tight framing, and high contrast.
It’s a moment at the end of The Intruder, however, that really shows off Corman’s reaction shots. It’s an odd ending. Cramer, the racist, in what seems at first like an easy Hollywood-type ending, is found out for the manipulator he is. A lynching is prevented and a major lie corrected. As Cramer pleads his case, Corman cuts to various townsfolk who we’ve seen throughout the film:
These are visually commonplace medium close-ups, but what’s remarkable is the sudden tonal shift. Suddenly these people look down on Adam just as we do. Their disgust is, at the same exact moment, our disgust. Wait a minute. Weren’t we just demonizing these people as intolerable racists mere moments ago? Isn’t this the same mob that looked to be on the verge of killing a young black student? And now we’re the same as them. In fact, we agree (sympathize, even!) with them.
It’s a strange close to the film. That happy ending aside, we’re left with a bunch of people who we basically forgive for following an over-zealous leader due to some well-timed reaction shots. There’s no understating this strategy. If Corman doesn’t cut to them then they’re either as bad as Cramer…or at least left unforgiven.
It seems his way of showing mob rule, how ignorance is easily manipulated, but also, how even the most imbecilic of people can become indignant when the “truth” is at stake. These people are mad because they’ve been lied to! Not because they’ve seen the light! What happens tomorrow in this town?
The ending kind of reminds me of the end of Johnny Guitar. Emma is demonized and meets a deserved end. Those other townsfolk who went along for the ride regroup and go home unscathed.