In the middle of Iraq, two Irish mercenaries Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony) kidnap a young woman, Shadha (Sofia Boutella), and hold her ransom so that her father will help their boss 'Dave' commit another crime. As time ticks by, secrets are revealed and the pair quickly realise that their seemingly straightforward operation is far more complicated than they assumed...
The only reason I knew this movie existed was because it starred Sofia Boutella (Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond), and this time she would get to play an actual human being.
Based on a play, Tiger Raid's structure is pretty familiar if you have seen The Disappearance of Alice Creed, 44 Inch Chest or any low-budget crime thriller in the last 20-something years - a group of professional criminals in a confined location. Cue double crosses and Mexican stand-offs. And to be honest, Tiger Raid does not really break that hard from the formula. One of the kidnappers is a loose cannon (Joe), while the other (Paddy) has more of a conscience.
To its credit, Tiger Raid does throw in some nasty character reveals that destroy that easy dichotomy. Joe is more empathetic than the front he puts on, while Paddy's dedication to the woman he loves is revealed as something far more disturbing and obsessive.
The three main performances are all really good. I don't think I have seen Brian Gleeson in anything before, but he is the easy standout as the more extroverted of the two kidnappers. Molony is also good, but his role is less showy.
With a character that does not depend on her physical abilities, Boutella has a chance to just play a character. As the plot unfolds, and the nature of her role changes, Boutella manages to handle the transition from terrified hostage to (spoilers) scorned lover and victim well. The role is not that developed, but there was nothing wooden or superficial about her performance - this film is good evidence that she has potential in roles that do not require hours of prosthetics and high kicks.
Overall, I came away from Tiger Raid a little underwhelmed. It's not objectively terrible: the actors are good, and the production values are solid. Simon Dixon's direction is fine - he has a good feel for the material's nihilistic, paranoid tone - and Is Bell's cinematography lends the desert exteriors a sense of scope, but like the script, there is a certain visual and aural familiarity to the movie's style that prevents it standing out from similar films.
The movie does briefly touch on one of my favourite themes - the contradiction between a man's image of a woman and the woman herself - but it never feels specific to Paddy and Shadha's relationship. Because of the casting and location, there is a subtext of racism running through their particular power dynamic, but it feels embryonic, rather than full developed.
The movie's biggest flaw is a fundamental sense of familiarity - I feel like I have seen this premise before in multiple movies, and done with far more originality and thematic heft. The Iraqi context makes for an original location, but if you took it away, you could set this movie in New York or London and it would be the same movie. If more had been made of this backdrop, and infused into the movie's story and characterisation, Tiger Raid could have the makings of something great. As is, it is merely solid.