Tigerland


Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by:Ross Klavan, Michael McGruther
Starring: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr, Tom Guiry, Shea Whigham
Released: August 16, 2001
Grade: A

I know what you’re thinking.  Not another war film, right?  It’s a genre for which near-perfection has been achieved (Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line) and yet filmmakers continue to explore new avenues to tell stories with fresh messages.

In Tigerland, we will never actually see our army recruits take on the elements in Vietnam.  The film looks primarily at their plight through eight weeks of advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana followed by a week at the infamous “Tigerland” - a place that will make or break you.

The film centres on Bozz (Farrell), a young hothead who is spending more time in solitary confinement than with the rest of the regiment.  He’s constantly goofing off and trying to get out of the army but this contrasts his intelligence and sharp ability with a rifle.  He becomes best friends with Paxton (Davis), a quiet honest young man who’s just doing his thing - he doesn’t believe in war but believes in defending his country.

Director Joel Schumacher’s career has nose-dived in recent years.  He is still acclaimed for his earlier works which include St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Dying Young, The Client and the brilliant Falling Down.  The past five years have seen him succumb to Hollywood commercialism with Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, A Time To Kill and the horrible 8MM.

Most critics agree that Tigerland is a return to the Schumacher of old.  The film is grainy, lacking colour and looks as if it was shot in 1971.  The story can be separated into two parts - the opening hour sees them battle the elements of boot camp and the closing hour sees them battle Tigerland and their inner selves.  The screenplay acutely captures varying emotions.  They’re cocky and green when they arrive but as they set off to Vietnam, they know that they’re probably not coming back.

Colin Farrell delivers an incredible performance that earned him the best actor prize from the Boston Society of Film Critics last year.  It’s a wonder he was overlooked come Oscar time but I’m sure the film’s limited release was a major factor.  Don’t be deterred by a similarly small release in Australia.  Tigerland is an emotional character driven story that offers a thought-provoking and gripping conclusion.