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Anyone who's been through the mortifying experience of basic
training in the U.S. Army will get a startling jolt of a memory trip from Tigerland.
Director Joel Schumacher (Batman and Robin, Flawless) gets it right, from the mise en scene, to the physical and emotional
battering of the recruits, to the endless streams of profanity. It's like living the
nightmare all over again if you've been there and it's an eye-opener if you haven't.
Tigerland follows a company of recruits through basic training
and then on to advanced infantry training--a grueling preparation for service in Viet Nam.
It's 1971 and conscription is still the law in the United States. Bozz Roland (Colin
Farrell) is a draftee who wants out, while his new buddy Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis), an
aspiring writer, enlisted. Others include a country boy who was married at fifteen and has
two kids, a sadistic sergeant, and Wilson, a sociopathic antagonist to counter Bozz.
There's a ring of truth to all these characters; it's a first class
ensemble performance and the dialogue is fresh and crackly. With the important exception
of Bozz, though, none of them are developed beyond the point they're in the script to
make and none of them offer up any surprises.Wilson, in particular, is weakly written--he
seems to be there only to serve the plot. You never know anything about why he is the way
But Bozz is a genuinely interesting character--observant, smart, and
cocky, he sees right through the system and speaks out freely, to the point of
insubordination. He's smart enough to play the system against itself and he manages to
assist others in getting out. "If you don't want to go to 'Nam," one solider
observes admiringly, "you better pray to Jesus or talk to Bozz."
Bozz is sympathetic because he's the realist who speaks the
truth about what's going on in the controlled insanity of boot camp. When a training
sergeant enthusiastically demonstrates how to apply an electrical charge to the testicles
of a prisoner, Bozz walks away saying, "Why would I want to do that to another human
being?" and we agree. But war is not about compassion and rational behavior and, just
maybe, all the repellent stuff that the trainees experience is what they need to survive
in the unpopular war in which they're stuck.
Only Saunders, the company captain (Nick Searcy), sees past Bozz's
front. In a confrontation, he brings up Bozz's past--quitting school and skirmishes with
the law. He nails Bozz, noting his behaviors as avoidance of responsibility, deflating the
moral pedestal on which Bozz has set himself above the rest.
So here's an interesting hero, who gets painted in shades of gray, not
just black and white, who's forced to look at how his cynical, if accurate,
observations may be more harmful than helpful to his mates, and just how much he's using
his smarts and flippancy to cover weaknesses of his own.
But the script doesn't work itself out as well as it sets up.
Unfortunately, the plotting gets contrived, and, after the effective buildup, the
resolution is a letdown. It seems pat, formulaic, and anticlimactic, destroying the
credibility of the outcome for Bozz.
Schumacher acknowledges the influence of the Dogma 95 movement in
making Tigerland, using hand held cameras and shooting in sixteen millimeter.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique continues here to display the artistry that made Pi and Requiem for a Dream such visually exciting films.
While the level of all the performances is first rate, it's Colin
Farrell who makes a powerful impression in Tigerland, his first major starring
role. He finds just the right tone for Bozz--the insolence, the daring, devil-may-care
attitude, the rationality, and the insecurity underlying the bravado. An Irishman, Farrell
manages an accent more generically American than Texan (which Bozz is supposed to be), but
it works. Farrell glows with charismatic screen presence; expect to see a lot more of him
in the future.
- Arthur Lazere