This is an overlooked gem in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography, in my opinion. It’s an action film that I’ve loved for many, many years back to when I bought the widescreen VHS in a nice clamshell case. Today, I’ve got the bare bones DVD which still presents the film beautifully. I had intended to devote January to being a Schwarzenegger month with a slew of reviews of his films, but let’s say I’ll be getting around to those throughout the year. Today, it’s a fun look at Raw Deal!
A Chicago Mafia is violently doing away with witnesses who were to incriminate them in court, making it clear to the FBI that they have a leak of information in their ranks. Mark Kaminsky (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an ex-FBI Agent, a former FBI agent forced to resign from the Bureau due to excessive violence, is now a small town sheriff. FBI Chief Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin), whose son has been killed by a mobster named Petrovita (Sam Wanamaker), enlists Kaminsky in a personal vendetta with a promise of reinstatement into the FBI if Patrovita is taken down. Kaminsky eagerly accepts the challenge and is prepared to infiltrate and tear apart the Patrovita machine without the consent, knowledge, or protection of any law enforcement agency. But once he’s in, he can’t get out and when a gorgeous mole is paid off to betray him, he becomes trapped in a deadly game where loyalty means nothing and there is only one person he can trust. Using his own brand of justice, he begins an action-packed journey into the murderous world of the mob and will stop at nothing until he has successfully completed his mission.
This is definitely a bit of a different story than you would usually find Arnold in. Something about corruption in law enforcement and mobsters warring on the streets of Chicago is a little different than secret agents, commandos, or ass kicking cops. However, Arnold fits comfortably and sharply into this context. We usually see him in more straight up action roles, but Raw Deal required Schwarzenegger to be more slick and smart in how his character operates. That classic Arnold charm is what really propels him through most of it. A confident, smooth manner is what takes care of the rest. There’s enough wit and smarts in his performance to maintain that sly sensibility to keep Kaminsky likable and entertaining. Yet, Arnold is able to bring out the tough bad ass competently and effectively. As is no surprise, he’s excellent in every action scene with plenty of physical combat to get his hands dirty.
There are a lot of great one-liners from Arnold that I’ve considered solid classics. It’s smart, fun writing that makes Kaminsky an enjoyable hero while never damaging the dramatic qualities of the film. It’s a nice balance handled by director John Irvin. Without these moments, the film could get a little dry, but we get nice dashes of that charm and wit to liven it up where need be.
Schwarzenegger strikes up some great chemistry with Kathryn Harrold’s classy, yet assertive Monique. What’s nice about this film is that while it does have multiple plot threads and character relationships going on, both friendly and adversarial, it never gets complicated. This is well reflected between these two characters. It has its sweetness as well as its conflicts. They build an enjoyable relationship between affectionate charm and some heated disagreements, but ultimately, it’s a simple romantic storyline that allows Kaminsky to regularly show his humanity and compassion.
There’s also a fine performance by Darren McGavin who mixes the conviction of a man needing justice with that of a heartfelt friend and father. He pops in and out of the film, but his scenes have substance that hold the underlying plot together. Joe Regalbuto creates a nice counterbalance playing up the bureaucratic, slightly snide mentality of Special Prosecutor Baxter, the man who forced Kaminsky out of the FBI. We soon see that he is justifiably despicable, but also, surely lacking in backbone when things got hot.
The supporting cast has plenty of solid talents. Robert Davi is great as the somewhat blunt instrument of an enforcer in Patrovita’s organization. Davi always does top notch work, and he adds a good rough, arrogant quality to Max playing opposite Schwarzenegger’s smoother undercover persona of Joseph Brenner. Everyone from Sam Wanamaker to Steven Hill put in very authentic performances as Chicago mobsters. They have that refined, high class, yet detestably corrupt quality which Chicago residents are all too familiar with. Ed Lauter is damn good as Federal Agent Baker who showcases some wit, charisma, and levity to make him quite engaging and memorable. Overall, Raw Deal doesn’t have a single weak link amongst its highly talented cast.
The score has some nice qualities to it. The action scenes have a strong driving rock sound to them that really kicks some ass, and adds more punch to each sequence. The dramatic scenes are more subtle keeping them generally low key but decently effective. In one instance, where Kaminsky and Monique are indulging in some campaign, we are treated to a nicely elegant saxophone as it becomes a lightly sexy moment with a humorous beat at the end.
I also think Raw Deal is very well shot making fine use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. John Irvin and his cinematographer utilize very good camera movement and solid angles and compositions. These are good, intelligent filmmaker who know how to dramatically stage a scene with smart camera work and very good lighting. They show off some fine 1980’s elegant production design, and also give us some punch in a night club scene with vibrant colors. For whatever reason, Chicago in the 1980s and early 90s looks quite different on film than it does today. A good deal has changed since then with more development all over the place, and it’s kind of intriguing to look back on a film like this that shows off some good landmarks of the city. There’s an entire car chase that runs through Navy Pier, which is essentially a big amusement park area with a Ferris wheel, concert venue, attractions, and a movie theatre today. Here, it’s dead empty.
But yes, indeed, this film features some solid action scenes. As I mentioned, Arnold is great getting hands-on in the fight scenes, and that car chase is really damn good with mobsters trading gunfire at high speeds. There’s enough action to satisfy right from the beginning with a mobster raid on a safe house where a witness is executed. I also love Arnold plowing a truck through the front business of Lamansky’s casino. But for me, the absolute BEST action scene comes when Kaminsky assaults the quarry where he provides his own soundtrack by putting a cassette tape of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” on the convertible car’s stereo and blasting it as he drives around picking off bad guys. There’s just putting a cool song added onto the soundtrack, and then, there’s the character himself providing his own action scene soundtrack. That’s purely priceless and it is one of my favorite moments in a Schwarzenegger film. It’s just awesome! This scene even starts out with the standard “arming up” scene where Kaminsky unfurls his arsenal of high-powered firearms and dons a slick leather jacket.
Following this up is the real big climax where Kaminsky goes for broke and unleashes a barrage of gunfire upon his enemies. There’s a great catalyst to all of this from the undercover operation to pure action revenge onslaught involving Harry. While it essentially negates all the attempted undercover manipulation and deception, it’s ultimately what you are waiting for. This is what makes it a Schwarzenegger action movie. Him spraying automatic gunfire in a stellar action climax that is awesomely shot, edited, and executed. Arnold goes into full bad ass mode taking something like the police station massacre in The Terminator and upping the action hero intensity with motivations of revenge and vindication. And it still has great, clever moments. It’s just an excellent climax to a rather fun film.
I will certainly say that Arnold has many greater movies than Raw Deal, but even then, it’s far from being a bad film. There are solid performances all around with a good, well put together plot that keeps it simple and straight forward while delivering plenty of entertainment value. It surely had enough plot potential to be a bigger, more complex and involved film than it was, but it sort of wisely avoids doing that knowing this is a Schwarzenegger vehicle. It’ll give you a good plot, but it’s going to keep it nicely focused on his character and maintain a good dosage of action. The film did fairly well upon release, but surely has been one of Arnold’s lesser regarded films. I think it’s fun while still providing some good dramatic and romantic qualities. Arnold himself does a fine job where he clearly was having a fun time. Like I said, it’s not entirely typical of his films with it’s more slick, dramatic tone and some sentimental qualities near the end, but it’s an enjoyable 104 minute action flick. It’s got enough entertainment value between everything Schwarzenegger is doing in this role and the solid action sequences delivered by director John Irvin. As something from De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, I think this nicely meets those expectations. I definitely recommend it for a fun time.