Tiger Raid is a grimy hour-and-twenty minutes of cut-throat, iron-sighted tension, until a vacuous ending drops all its subplots at once – like a juggler who raises his hands mid-act and declares “DONE!” We’re drenched in the sinful hellishness of war, and dragged through a game of wits between two mercenaries who are constantly testing each other’s boundaries. Simon Dixon’s feature debut grabs our attention with morally ambiguous proclamations, but squanders unpaid debts on a finale that hurriedly explains a string of MacGuffins with the grace of The Incredible Hulk. Frantic psychological thrills sizzle under the Middle East’s vicious heat lamp, but Dixon simply runs out of gas a few miles too soon.
Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony star as Joe and Paddy, two guns for hire who are carrying out a hush-hush kidnapping mission. Their boss, Dave, arranges for ransoms once his solider teams secure their hostage, in an effort to exploit lawless, battle-ravaged locales. Trust is all these two lone warriors have as they drive across Iraq’s deserts alone, which stirs up some heated conversations until the job takes a turn toward unpredictability and chaos. As both men try to make sense of the situation, mistakes from their past strain what little relationship they were able to establish. Loyalty is such a fickle concept – especially with death knocking at your door.
The one unwavering constant of Tiger Road is the dynamite chemistry between Gleeson and Molony. These two jarheads find themselves pitted in a constant test of wills, trying to bluff one another with grander and more personal tales. Every conversation is a test, and the rate that these two fire verbal bullets at one another is energetically playful, yet deceivingly dangerous.
Maybe it just sounds charming because of their Irish accents, but a hesitant reluctance balances effortlessly with their blind faith in Dave’s God-like status, even though we know something is amiss. Gleeson and Molony squeeze like a vice grip with their cautious depiction of badass commando camaraderie, as they play sinful soldiers of the highest, most devilishly charming order.
Dixon’s visuals aid scripted words by smearing black war paint around both soldier’s eyes. It’s such a simple gesture, but their dead glares highlight a somewhat demonic quality when pearly white pools clash with the nightmare-black outlines. Both Joe and Paddy always seem to be shrouded in a telling shadow, until tensions reach a height, and Paddy’s paint is washed away.
Joe – a company man through and through – still sports his intimidating gaze, while Paddy’s cleaner face hints at a possible change of heart. Since neither character cares to reveal if they’re telling the truth, Dixon uses visible clues like this to develop the persona of each wardog. It’s an immersion of the sense, on a more finely tuned level.
Yet, despite adept filmmaking and haunting performances (including Sofia Boutella as a conflicted hostage), Dixon’s story falls apart just when Tiger Raid begins to climax. With the help of co-writers Mick Donnellan and Gareth Coulam Evans, Dixon’s conclusion deflates an hour’s worth of tension thanks to a murky conclusion about sinners facing their final judgement.
The entire film is loaded with red herrings, from blatant lies to pitch-black jokes, but when Joe and Paddy finally confront their demons, clarity becomes the film’s true victim. Maybe their Celtic voices spit dialogue too quickly, but Tiger Raid‘s last act of redemption makes its journey more of a torturous question mark – absolution is reached, but do we truly understand the costs?
You might argue that Tiger Raid doubles as a religious experience, where two poor souls are forced to confront their mistakes in the bowels of Hell (could Dave be Satan?). It’s a double-edge sword that boasts intense vibrancy under Dixon’s guidance, but everything goes limp under the weight of over-complication. Joe and Paddy’s abusive, gut-punch dynamic is worth the price of admission though (did you expect anything less from a Gleeson?), even if it almost becomes overshadowed by an incomplete finality. This is a good movie that could have been something great. Instead, though, it’s bound by the shackles of mindfuckery gone astray.
Tiger Raid transforms Iraq into a personal purgatory for two hired mercenaries in this thrilling tale of sinful confrontation.