“It’s like you’re a vampire, but you’re not allowed to drink blood anymore.” – Joe (Brian Gleeson)
Tiger Raid, directed by Simon Dixon and written by Mick Donnellan, Gareth Coulam Evans, and Dixon tells the story of two mercenaries and of how their isolated worlds crash together in explosive waves of violence and existentialism throughout a lean 92 minute runtime. If the U.K. film that had its world premiere during 2016’s Tribeca Film Festival’s ‘Midnight’ section doesn’t feel like your standard monster movie fare, it’s because the film is set firmly within the tight genre of thriller. But it does star Sofia Boutella, who is currently at work on Universal’s upcoming The Mummy as the title role. Reason enough to check out Simon Dixon’s Tiger Raid.
Tiger Raid‘s screenplay is co-written by Mick Donnellan, an accomplished Irish playwright and author, and based off of his play Radio Luxembourg. The extended opening, set during a desert night, follows mercenaries Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony) as they carry out their latest job for their enigmatic boss Dave. We follow Joe and Brian through one murderously clandestine task to eventually a more impactful raid which ultimately leads to the film’s title. Search ‘tiger raid’ and the practice of tiger kidnapping is revealed to have its origins found in tactics used by the IRA. Kidnapping, coercion, suicide bombings. The film, silent and contemplative at times, is also well plotted, paced, and a remarkably muscular thriller disguised as an actioner.
As much of a thriller and (arguably) action movie Tiger Raid is, it’s actually so much more. The film explores the “dark hearts of men” according to director and co-writer Simon Dixon. The “character piece” that Tiger Raid reveals itself to be ultimately focuses significantly on the shoulders of Brian Gleeson’s Joe. He’s the older merc to Paddy, complete with technique, know-how, and an inate ability to delicately walk between being conceivably evil and primarily human. Now one thing needs to be said, if you love cinema and follow film, the Gleeson family should immediately be recognized as one of the hardest working and truly talented of acting families in the business. Brian’s father, the legendary Mr. Brendan Gleeson, first came to my attention with his role in Sofia Boutella’s Mummy co-star Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible 2. I’ve followed his dynamic work ever since, including Cruise’s Far and Away and Edge of Tomorrow. And let’s not forget Brian’s brother Domnhall, who coincidentally stars alongside Cruise in 2017’S Mena. But Brendan’s son and Domnhall’s brother, Brian, is easily one of the most powerful forces in Simon Dixon’s Tiger Raid and this is a film with two other powerful forces found in Damien Molony’s Paddy and Boutella’s Shadha.
There’s an underlying nature of menace that could be found in Tiger Raid and it remains just under the surface for enough of the time to eventually startle with a definite shock and intensity. This is testament to not only Simon Dixon’s true auteurship as director, but the sharpness of the co-written screenplay by Mick Donnellan and Gareth Coulam Evans. The dialogue and overall tone of the picture feels like it could be immediately brought to the stage and it is evident in all the best ways that this material was originally presented in Donnellan’s Radio Luxembourg.
However, based on the theatrical canvas that Dixon, Donnellan, and Evans get to work with on Tiger Raid, the cast and crew are presented with a sincere opportunity to address contemplation’s on violence, brotherhood, loyalty, and love. It becomes immediately apparent that Tiger Raid is an exploration of the loyalty and brotherhood between mercs’ Joe and Paddy, and the questionable indifference to violence. It’s very apparent as Joe and Paddy often relate their actions to that of Superman. Simon Dixon has said that Tiger Raid seeks to explore how war and violence affects people and while this is subject matter explored countless times before, Dixon is able to effectively communicate the themes across the hour and 32 minute runtime. Instead of shocking audiences with wanton violence, he instead portrays gunplay, bodies being hacked, death, and instances of battery and threat in a way mostly portrayed off screen; instead Director of Photography Si Bell focuses on the faces of the cast. Gleeson’s Joe hacks up a body yet we focus more on his detachment from what he’s currently doing. Molony’s Paddy is forced into battle and an impossible situation with his compatriot and it becomes more about the dizzying feeling of being overwhelmed as opposed to the actual action of the moment.
The world of Tiger Raid and the film itself comes to life in so many ways. The performances done by Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony give the characters of Joe and Paddy more dimension than of the “toy soldiers” they could have easily become in lesser hands. The ability Gleeson and Molony have to flip between relatable comradeship to the reviled depths they sometimes sink to; each revealing new shades of personality to their given characters, they never let their figurative index off of the trigger. Talk about performances worth raving over!
Sofia Boutella is someone I’ve written about and spoken of in great depth, hailing her as “a new kind of actress.” She has the opportunity to inhabit the role of Shadha, whom the less is said about the better to one’s initial reaction and enjoyment of Tiger Raid. Boutella, best known for her years as a dancer and breakout role in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service as the blade legged character named Gazelle, will next be seen in this year’s Star Trek Beyond, almost unrecognizable as the alien Jaylah and, at some point, the tentatively scheduled 2016 film The Coldest City. She’s currently filming 2017’s The Mummy and is well on her way to becoming one of the most versatile and complex of actors working today. Boutella, 34, brings the exact nature of Paddy’s description of Shadha to life – “She was pure. She was beautiful. She was perfect. Like proof God exists.” Her performance of Shadha is just as strong, if not more so, than anyone else in Tiger Raid. She rightfully belongs in this film, bringing every bit of physicality to the role in not only physical but emotional as well. Tiger Raid is a movie that showcases the talents expressiveness and ability to convey reality and Sofia Boutella sells every scene, right up to the unforgettable final shot.
Simon Dixon’s Tiger Raid has a specific “cadence and language”, just as Dixon himself said after the premiere of his film. It’s a cadence and language that many of the great classic films have all shared and it’s one actively waiting to be discovered during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. While we can’t necessarily force you to see this movie in as forceful as way as a true tiger raid, the 2016 film starring Brian Gleeson, Damien Molony, Sofia Boutella, and Rory Fleck-Byrne deserves to be seen, experienced, and witnessed in just as powerful a way.
…And if you listen very closely, you’ll hear the ventricular beats drumming “Tiger Raid is the 2016 win of Tribeca!”
Tiger Raid gets five stars.
While on a covert mission, two cold blooded mercenaries form an unlikely bond as they race across the desert in the dead of night. When their violent and desperate world implodes, past atrocities come to the surface threatening to tear each of them apart.
Brian Gleeson (Show White and the Huntsman), Damien Molony (Kill Your Friends), and Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) offer stunning performances as the inhabitants of director Simon Dixon’s dark and arid, seemingly unpopulated desertscape. Dixon surrounds these complex and troubled characters in haunting imagery and immersive sound design. As the true nature of their mission becomes clear, betrayals accumulate; no one emerges innocent in this disturbing action-thriller.
*Steven and UMU would like to thank April Tonsil, Victoria Vargas, and Steven Beeman at Falco Ink for coordinating such a fantastic premiere for Tiger Raid at Tribeca Film Festival 2016, and extending the courtesy of allowing us to attend.
**For additional thoughts, please visit What’cha Reading.
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)