Raw Deal

Certificate: 18
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: John Irvin
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Davi, Darren McGavin
Genre: Action
Country: USA

January 25th sees the return to the big screen (in the leading role) of the most bankable action star Hollywood cinema has ever seen; he’s a robotic organism sent back from the future to save us; he’s the former Governor of the great state of California and all-time goosing champion…and most of all he’s been telling you for years that he’d be back!  To celebrate the return to the big screen of Arnold Schwarzenegger we’re going to look back at some of the big man’s most enjoyable offerings in the genre of “whooping ass and taking names” there’s no small siblings or pregnancies here just guns…lots and lots of guns.

Back when Arnold was trying to crack the nut that is Hollywood he was given some advice to change his name to Arnold Strong as Schwarzenegger was considered too much for an American audience, it seems almost insane now to picture a world without The Schwarz and it’s his single mindedness we’ve to thank for the path taken.  First up is action flick Raw Deal which sees Arnold as a washed out FBI agent turned small town Sheriff who is approached by his old mentor Harry Shannon (McGavin) with an assignment to infiltrate the Chicago mob who have just ruthlessly murdered Shannon’s son.

The thing we love about Arnold is his presence, he’s like John Wayne in that respect.  It doesn’t matter that he has a thick Austrian accent and you look at him and know realistically that he simply wouldn’t be an FBI agent and certainly not one they’d select for a mob infiltration assignment he says “I’m this character” and we believe it because he is Arnold.  It’s a quality that comes along maybe once in a generation and he has it in abundance.  You consider his 80’s action rival Sylvester Stallone and some of the roles in which he has inhabited which the audience has had trouble believing because of his frame or diction and you see just how commanding Arnold is on screen and that’s why Raw Deal works.  The script isn’t entirely there and is filled with enough plot holes that it would sink itself if anybody else was in command; narratively the “act” of undercover work is boiled down to wearing a suit; looking sharp and “owning it”…whatever that is but it’s ok, it comes off because of who we’re dealing with.  

The characters are also crudely sketched out and it’s only ever really Kaminsky/Brenner (Schwarzenegger) and Shannon who have any degree of meat on their bones when it comes to characterisation but it works because of the calibre of performers the film is able to attract thanks to it’s lead.  Sam Wanamaker (as Luigi) is great as an elder statesmen of the organised crime family; he’s a vet of Hollywood screen and stage alike and brings real believability and pathos to an otherwise underdeveloped role.  Similarly Robert Davi (as Max Keller) gives the audience someone to fear.  He’s played the bad guy for years and though he’s physically no match for Schwarzenegger he has a way in his acting that implies an underlying dangerousness or a psychosis that levels the playing field.  All too often Arnold is pitched against men who are no match for him (one which will be highlighted in a later review) so it’s a real pleasure to see them provide a proper antagonist for him.  Schwarzenegger is, of course, effortlessly Arnold though his character is somewhat darker than those of this stage of his career and has some interesting moral ambiguities which makes Raw Deal worth another watch after recent marital difficulties but the real star is Darren McGavin.  Working with McGavin will make whatever the project is better; working on screen with him will make you up your game and ultimately make you a better actor (he is that damn good) but be warned he will steal every scene he is in.  He is an incredible performer and that is all that needs to be said about the man; his humanity and heartbreak of Raw Deal is the driving force behind everything in the film and he sells it effortlessly.

Sure everything else about the film will either be dated or unchallenging, though for my money the score is still a masterful piece of 80’s music, but what Raw Deal is, is a genre piece with a strong lead that surrounds the lead with amazing character actors to firm up any weaknesses that may have been there and it’s a credit to Arnold that he’s able to go toe to toe with the likes of Wanamaker, Davi and McGavin.  Though not a classic Raw Deal dishes out enough action and attitude to make the hour-forty-six rush by in a hale of bullets.


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