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 themare 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 he is.
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 howhis 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 andRequiem 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.