Conn Holohan checks out Simon Dixon’s Tiger Raid, which screened at Galway Film Fleadh 2016.
Tiger Raid opens with a beautifully expansive tracking shot through a darkened desert landscape, framing a solitary military jeep as it races across the sand. For a few moments the soundtrack is silent, and then the somewhat incongruous sounds of two Irish voices arguing about the Good Friday Agreement puncture the desert air. These opening moments capture both the potential and the problems with Simon Dixon’s adaption of Radio Luxembourg, a stage play by Mayo playwright Mick Donnellan. The shift in location of the titular Tiger kidnapping from small-town Ireland to an unnamed location in the Middle East provides the director Dixon and cinematographer Si Bell with the kind of striking settings that we witness in these opening shots. These are used to good effect: the sweeping sand-filled landscapes and white-washed Arab towns remain eerily deserted, conveying the sense that the film’s characters inhabit some moral netherworld in which the usual rules of human behavior no longer apply. However, once we enter the confined spaces where the action unfolds: a military jeep, the windowless living room of the hostage’s house, a deserted warehouse, it is clear that we are in very familiar territory. This is the world of the maladjusted Irish male, whose philosophical ruminations, pseudo or otherwise, can barely mask the depths of his dysfunction. We know this won’t end well.
The story concerns two Irish mercenaries en route to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Joe (Brian Gleeson) is the more battle-weary of the two, yet remains absolutely devoted to Dave, the shadowy off-screen figure who directs their criminal operation. Paddy (Damien Molony) is brash and confident, yet not devoid of reflection. He seems willing to defy Dave’s orders, yet his motivations and intentions turn out to be perhaps the more complex of the two. The kidnap of Shadha (Sofia Boutella) becomes a moment of truth for both characters as they confront their own pasts and the nature of their relationships to Dave, to the people that they love, and to violence.
The biggest difficulty that the film faces is that these characters, and the scenario in which we encounter them, remain fundamentally theatrical. Despite the opening out of the action, the rules of the game remain defined by the stage: there are two men in a room, and beyond it there is nothing but the images that they conjure. The malevolent presence of Dave, who haunts the minds of Joe and Paddy like some Irish Keyser Soze, is itself a theatrical device. We are under no illusions as to whether Dave will ever actually arrive onscreen to mete out punishment or reward. Joe and Paddy’s world is hermetically sealed: it is a theatre of the soul. The stylishly theatrical language with which the characters probe and test each other’s hard-man exterior serves to heighten the action, lifting it out of the everyday of criminal exchange, yet its tenor jars with the inherent realism of the cinematic image and leaves the audience wanting to escape these stifling rooms, out to the expanse of world that lies beyond.
The upshot of all this is that, despite the impressive central performances, and moments of real cinematic tension and directorial flair, Tiger Raid ultimately struggles to escape its origins and fails to provide sufficient action or invention to fully justify its transition to the big screen.
Tiger Raid screened on Thursday, 7th July 2016 as part of the Gaway Film Fleadh.