Simon Dixon sees nothing wrong with starting at the top, and he makes a good case for that with his first film as a director, Tiger Raid, which had its world premiere at Tribeca on April 17th.
I interviewed him and his producer, Gareth Evans, soon after the premiere, and it was obvious they were still basking in the glow of the event. It was also evident how much they believed in their film.
Tiger Raid is a challenging, intense drama about the terrible personal price paid by men who live by violence. And the title of the film is itself a hint about what’s really going on: a “tiger raid“, in criminal lingo, is a kidnapping where the purpose is not only to get money for ransom but to get someone to commit another crime.
In this case, the story concerns two Irish mercenaries, Joe, played by Brian Gleeson, and Paddy, played by Damien Molony, whose apparent mission is to kidnap a woman in Jordan and hold her for ransom. But soon a very different story dominates. After a stunning revelation about the identity of the kidnap victim, we plunge into Joe’s devastating inner conflict between his loyalty to his boss, David, a ruthless and manipulative fanatic, who is never seen, and his own deeply buried guilt for his past crimes. The history of Joe’s relationship with David, and with his deceased lover, Ruby, which is revealed slowly, eventually explains the real purpose of the mission.
Or, maybe not. This is because we are never entirely sure whether what we are learning is real, or is only part of Joe’s guilt-ridden imagination.
Whether audiences will resist this kind of dense, convoluted storytelling doesn’t seem to concern them. Evans said that it’s a legitimate way to entertain people, although the way he described it – “like putting the audience’s heads in a vise, and just turning it” – might seem a little sadistic. At any rate, the revelations about the pasts of both of these men come thick and fast, and none of them are pretty.
Still, the filmmakers felt that audiences respond to challenges, which is one reason why the setting was changed from Ireland to the Middle East. The actual location is never stated outright; only Abu Ghraib is mentioned, once. But they felt this was entirely credible for men who are contract criminals. And the story of men who cannot escape their past has a timeless fascination to it.
At any rate, Dixon and Evans were impatient to break into filmmaking, and they sensed that Mick Donnellan’s play, “Radio Luxembourg”, was the right vehicle for that. And the fact that Dixon had never directed anything except commercials before did not daunt him in the least. “I want to learn by doing,” he said proudly. The results show on the screen. The intensity and confidence in the performances, principally from Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony, would be remarkable achievements for even a veteran director.
The strain on the actors was more than emotional, too; it was also physically demanding, especially in the unforgiving Jordan heat. Jordanian women’s boxing star, Arifa Bseiso, who was second unit director, also helped out in physical training for Molony and others in the cast.
Dixon was especially pleased with how the soundscape and propulsive music score sustained a subtly unnerving mood throughout the film. The music, which used traditional instrumentation as well as electronic elements, almost seems like another character in the story. He praised the collaborative work of composer Dean Valentine and Egg Post Productions for achieving this.
The filmmakers’ London-based company, Dixon-Baxi-Evans, is committed to producing content of international appeal. Dixon will direct the company’s next production, Snow Blind, which is set to begin shooting in China in early 2017.
Tiger Raid is being handled by Bankside Films for international sales.
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