Julien Neaves, Editor/Caribbean Head Writer
Hey folks. On Monday May 17 Red Mango Reviews celebrated its fifth anniversary. In celebration of this milestone we’ve implemented several new things, including a new look (hope you like it), bringing on former guest writer Wayne Rock as our new featured writer, and six days of Top 5 Articles. For today’s third article I will be donning my cap as Caribbean Head Writer. Hmm. Still fits. Nice!
Now I was brainstorming a bit on what Cariwood (Caribbean film) Top 5 I should do for this week and I finally settled on a Trinidad and Tobago action film list. Sounds like fun, right? We’ll see. Here are my Top 5 TT Action Movies:
#5 Contract Killers (2008)
Sometimes you just want to shut off your brain and enjoy an action movie. And that was my experience with Contract Killers (not to be confused with the 2014 or 2015 films of the same name) which was filmed in TT and has TT-born actor G. Anthony Joseph both featuring and co-producing it.
The movie is about a CIA assassin named Jane (Frida Farrell) who’s trying to lead a normal life but her past comes back to try and kill her. Farrell is a competent action heroine and there is the familiar face of veteran actor Nick Mancuso (Under Siege franchise, a slew of TV appearances) as the dastardly big bad. The plot is pretty paint-by-numbers and reminiscent of La Femme Nikita, but there is loads of action and intrigue and it is a decent enough time. And it’s always fun seeing familiar TT locations. Aye, look there! That never gets old.
#4 Pendulum (2017)
If you want to do a bit of thinking while watching your TT action film then might I recommend Pendulum, directed and co-written by Michael Rochford and which began life as his university project. It’s the story of an ex-soldier with PTSD named Ryan Williams (Jovon Browne) who is asked by an old friend and software company CEO named Luther (Stephen Hadeed Jr) to investigate a stalker. But things take a dark turn when Luther is murdered apparently by Ryan’s own hands.
The movie is not a wall-to-wall action film but it makes up for any lack of bullets and fisticuffs by tension-filled scenes, solid performances, and an interesting story. So if you’re in the mood for some intrigue and tense action why not swing on over to Pendulum. Get it? Swing on over? Pendulum? You get it.
#3 Men of Gray II: Flight of the Ibis (1996)
It is was a pretty big deal when this film came out in 1996. It was not only the second feature-length TT action film (the first was the original, lower-budgeted, made-for-TV film) but it was also a time when a local film was still a novelty. The movie finds hero cop Joe Cameron (played by the abovementioned G. Anthony Joseph, who also wrote the film) being framed for murder and corruption by a ruthless drug lord he put away years before.
Now I rewatched this film a couple years back and the production quality has not held up that well making the film look pretty dated. And some of the camera work is not the best. On the positive side Joseph delivers as a martial arts action lead, the fight scenes are quite entertaining, and there are several interesting characters to follow. The story is also a cool blend of intrigue, chase scenes, gunplay, hand-to-hand fights and occasional comedy. The film features veteran local actors including Michael Cherrie, Hansley Ajodha, the late great Horace James, late comedienne Shirley “Beulah” King, and also singer Trisha Lee Kelshall who featured on the film’s soundtrack together with calypso icon David Rudder. As a TT viewer the movie is a pleasant time capsule and it’s also simply a fast-paced action thriller for all audiences, Trini or not. Joseph has been working on a third film, Liberty in the Fires, and you can read more about that here.
#2 Code R.E.D.D. (2020)
This is the most recent film on this list and it is pretty amazing that it is the debut production of writer/director/producer/chief/cook/bottlewasher Joel Moss and features several first-time actors. The film is just a continuously entertaining action flick, some pacing issues in the third act notwithstanding. Code R.E.D.D. tells the story of private detectives Devoughn Drake and Richard “Richie” Evans (Dechland Connor and Jonathan McIntosh respectively) who agree to retrieve a briefcase for a shady businessman named Randolph Shaw (Jeremy McInstosh). But the simple job gets very complicated when that briefcase leads them into conflict with a trigger-happy gangster, a sociopathic soldier and a group of deadly human traffickers.
The action set pieces here are just so well done. The gunfights are deftly choreographed and the hand-to-hand combat scenes are brutal, visceral and pulse-pounding. Add to that a likable buddy cop duo, some comedic moments sprinkled in, and a twist that even surprised a veteran film reviewer like me, and you have a phenomenal action film achievement.
#1 Welcome to Warlock: The Land of the Lawless (2014)
Code R.E.D.D. shows that passion and talent can help overcome budgetary constraints, and Welcome to Warlock is the epitome of that. This film really has no right to be as good as it is. It tells the story of Machine (Raphael Joseph), a maxi taxi (private-owned, private-operated minibus) driver who has a falling out with his friend “Ratty” (Junior Mcintyre) over gambling card game “wappie”, and it escalates into a full-scale gang war in their ghetto community. Director Jeffrey Alleyne aka “dgeneral” shot the film guerilla style with a handycam and tripod which gives the movie a gritty, almost documentary feel.
The amateur cast give raw, profanity-laden, authentic performances that at times feel a little too real. And the many brutal, bloody gunfights are impressively shot and choreographed, straddling the line between almost glorifying and condemning gang violence. You don’t really watch Welcome to Warlock; you experience it. And more than likely you will come out with the feeling, “Dang. This movie real (pronounced ‘rel’ by Trinis) good.”
But don’t just take my word for it (Come on, you should trust me by now. Sheesh!) and check out the film for yourself on YouTube (where it has more than 1.5 million views) by clicking here.
So that’s my list. What’s your favourite Trinidad and Tobago film? You can check out more thrilling TT content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.