There’s really no excuse for vanilla DVD releases nowadays, especially not when it’s a DVD starring one of Hollywood’s formerly most bankable stars. And yet that’s exactly what you get with Raw Deal, with only the original film trailer included. It’s very disappointing that they couldn’t get Arnie or the always fantastic Robert Davi on board to give their take on the film, or even a brief ten-minute chat with Brit director John Irvin, also the man behind war effort Hamburger Hill.
With a complete lack of any extra features, your decision on buying Raw Deal comes down to two things: is the transfer quality good enough to warrant forking out your cash, and is the film itself worthy of your attention?
Answering that first point with an emphatic yes, the DVD transfer is excellent, and the 2.0 mix goes some way to making up for the lack of surround sound on offer. When it all kicks off towards the end of the film (more on that later) turn your speakers up at the dizzying display of gunshots, screams and cussing that envelops the screen.
Now, what about that second point…
Revisiting the film some twenty-two years after its initial release, it’s clear that Raw Deal was in many ways a braver film for Arnie to have taken on than it first may appear. On paper this was another balls-to-the-wall action flick designed to take advantage of Arnie’s rising star status. Certainly, sleeves of DVD or video releases of the film, including this one, make no bones as to how to pitch the movie. In one of his most iconic poses, there stands Arnie in a white vest, arm bent holding a sub machine gun and looking over his shoulder, seemingly severely pissed off at something. He looks like a mercenary, a predatory killer. In short, this is someone you just don’t fuck with.
However, what struck me when coming back to Raw Deal after all these years was how in many ways the action comes second to a damn fine plot, and a whole lot of acting. As if to prove that point, unlike Commando, Red Heat, Predator, and The Running Man (all released in the same late 80s period) Raw Deal’s action moments come in short bursts and the film is far from the full-on actionner the DVD cover would have you think it is.
That said, when those bursts come along they remind you exactly why Arnie was as revered as an action star as he once was. In particular, the aforementioned moment when it does all kick off, a fifteen-minute action fest that starts with Arnie packing a shitload of guns into a bag and ends with him having taken out between 30-40 guys (with the Stones’ Satisfaction playing in the background), is one long adrenaline rush. It could be considered by some as a boring, moronic sequence, this untouchable human bulldozer crushing everything in its path. But hark back to the late 80s and this was exactly what people expected of the Austrian Oak. He WAS unstoppable. He WAS a killer like no other. This brick shithouse of a man burned up the cinema screen, and I’m happy to report that the effect isn’t lessened in the slightest on DVD.
Back to that superb plot though, which surrounds Arnie’s ex-FBI agent turned local town sheriff who is asked by friend and former boss Harry Shannon to infiltrate a crime syndicate that killed Harry’s son. Going undercover to take the gang down from within, things take a turn for the worse when Harry gets shot and that’s when the above one-man demolition derby takes place. That it takes a good hour and a quarter to get to that point is testament to Irvin’s determination to tell a good story. It’s also, in one crucial way, the cause of the film’s only irritation.
As the film plays out the acting, on the whole, is superb thanks to the excellent cast. In particular, alongside Davi are rock solid performances from Sam Wanamaker as crime boss Patrovita and Kathryn Harold as Arnie’s live interest Monique. Unfortunately, Arnie pales in comparison when he’s given large chunks of dialogue, which he is asked to do many times. It was bold of Irvin and Arnie to take that on and it regularly falls flat, although by surrounding him with quality actors it’s never a huge problem. There is also one line from Arnie that stands head and shoulders above the rest and it’s his straight delivery that makes it so funny. When talking to his exasperated, and drunk, wife about their marital problems, she throws a cake she’s baking at him, eliciting the phrase ‘You should not drink and bake!’ Quite superb.
Raw Deal is something of an overlooked gem. For sure it’s no Terminator but it certainly more than stands proud among Arnie’s body of work and it deserves praise for being much more than just a bucket load of explosions and witty one-liners. This is demonstrated non more so than in the final five minutes, when Arnie helps a recovering Shannon to walk again. It’s a surprisingly touching way to end a highly entertaining film.
Film:DVD: (for the transfer)