Film Reviews: Tigerland

Colin Farrell as Bozz and Matthew Davis as Paxton in Tigerland.

By Tom Deignan, Columnist
December / January 2001

Starring Colin Farrell. Directed by Joel Schumacher. 20th Century Fox.

℘℘℘

Faster than a speeding bullet, it seems, onetime Ballykissangel actor Colin Farrell has shot to fame as the next “it” Irish actor. When you see his Vietnam war flick Tigerland, you’ll see it’s not just his good looks that got the young Dubliner all this attention.

Swapping his Dublin accent for a Texas twang, Farrell has a swaggering, charismatic role as Bozz, a rebellious soldier. But before he gets to the front line, Bozz aims to drive his superiors nuts – in the hopes of getting tossed out of the Army.

One problem – Bozz’s antiauthoritarian streak may get him killed even before he gets to ‘Nam.

Tigerland is a powerful film, at times riveting and touching. The one problem some viewers may have is that it does little to move beyond the shadow of classic anti-war movies like Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove, even going all the way back to the legendary silent version of All Quiet on the Western Front.

In Tigerland, the officers are generally idiots or fascist psychos, the soldiers either blindly patriotic or mentally broken. So the “big message” from director Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, the two most recent Batman films) is a familiar one.

None of which makes Tigerland a less compelling story. And without a doubt, Farrell nails his role as the film’s emotional centerpiece.

“Tigerland” is a military training facility – “the second worst place on Earth.” The worst place, of course, is Vietnam, where all these young men will be headed shortly. Given the cast of young studs, it’s no surprise that Tigerland is a high-testosterone affair. With the exception of two beautiful ladies Bozz and a pal, uh, “bump” into while on leave, Tigerland focuses on male angst, rage and violence. (As for female viewers, well, you should know that Schumacher has no qualms about shooting Farrell and his pals quite naked.)

Bozz’s rebellious streak forces the soldiers in his troop to choose sides, divided (as the nation was) over Vietnam. On the one hand, Bozz’s knowledge of military legalese and loopholes helps a number of boys get back home. Since, however, he can’t get himself out (or really doesn’t want to), Bozz is hell bent on exposing the savagery and absurdity of war.

Bozz befriends a budding writer (Matt Davis) who mocks himself as the clichéd writer who seeks adventure in war. (Though this pretty much is what he is.) He and Bozz philosophize, drink, smoke. And when a former troop leader cracks under the pressure of a masochistic officer, Bozz is told to take over. This enrages Wilson (Shea Wingham), a racist super-patriot. (Again, don’t go to Tigerland in search of complexities. We always know exactly who to cheer for in this movie.)

After two violent confrontations in which Wilson is humiliated, he decides to deal with Bozz once and for all.

This actually ends up more suspenseful than it sounds, and makes for a solid (if ultimately predictable) conclusion.

There is, however, a larger logical problem in Tigerland, for those inclined to worry about such things. The film’s premise – that the military is a den of idiocy and brutality – may be on target. But it is a little tired by the year 2000. At least classic war stories, from Platoon to The Naked and The Dead, set up conflicting forces within the military.

By making Bozz so self-assured, so cocky, he is just the reverse image of the cocksure (very American) attitude that got the over-confident nation into so much trouble in Vietnam.

But with hot young stars and dazzling documentary-like direction, who cares about the philosophy of war in Tigerland?

Especially since, at its best, the film is suspenseful, funny and well-acted. Schumacher relies (probably too much so) on that hand-held camera look known widely as the “MTV style.” It’s annoying and excessive at times — but it’s a perfect fit when the suspense is cranked up.

In addition, the largely unknown cast isn’t the only low-budget item here. Some viewers may have trouble adjusting to the film’s cheap look. Schumacher may call it “gritty,” but Tigerland has a home video-ish quality.

But again, overall, Tigerland is a solid movie – thanks in large part to Colin Farrell. See it – and catch a rising star. ♦

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