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Tigerland
2000 - R - NA Mins.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Producer: Steven M. Haft, Arnon Milchan, Beau Flynn, Steven Haft
Written By: Michael McGruther, Ross Klaven, Ross Klavan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Clifton Collins Jr., Thomas Guiry, Russell Richardson, Cole Hauser
Review by: David Trier
   
Glory and Empire of the Sun. With these being the exception, I hate war movies. They're unpleasant, they're depressing, they have a twisted concept of morality play, and they're usually historically inaccurate. They rarely have a plot - "It's about the war, ya see." - they usually consist of two hours of gunplay intermingled with about half an hour of dialogue, and they're crack cocaine for overacting. But Tigerland is the movie that takes place before the opening credits of the war movie and the result is far more interesting.

The story follows the experience of recruits going through Advanced Infantry Training. They arrive in Louisiana at the camp called Tigerland in the last act. It is the final level of training, the last stop before being shipped off to Vietnam. The film is told mostly through the eyes of Pvt. Paxton (Matthew Davis), a decent kid who writes in his journal and joined the army not because he wants to kill, but because he thinks it's the right thing to do. Someone else would have to take his place, he argues. But the true hero is a character named Bozz (Colin Farrell) who despite having all the ability to be a "great soldier," completely rejects the war and his superiors. He's famous amongst the recruits for being able to get people out because he knows the regulations front and back, finding all the loopholes to keep scared kids from ending up in the jungle. Bozz has plans to escape the war himself, on his own schedule, and take off to Mexico, but underneath the tough wiseguy image, he is torn by the impulse to protect his friends. But Bozz's cynical superhero ways aren't advantageous to everybody. Miter (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a kid unwittingly placed as troupe leader, must face reprimand for not being able to control his squadron. And Wilson (Shea Whigham), a violent sociopath, feels threatened by Bozz's stability.

I considered boycotting this flick just on the basis that it was directed by Joel Schumacher, a notorious hack whose best film was probably The Lost Boys, the kind of director you call when John Frankenheimer backs out of a project. But it was as if while paying partial attention to his disasters like Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, he was secretly taking filmmaking classes from Lars von Trier. Hand-held but not erratic digital camerawork, no "name" actors, genuine commitment to each scene, and an idea more than just a message. Tigerland is honest filmmaking and, in my opinion, far more engaging and moving than Saving Private Ryan. The cast is just perfect. Colin Farrell, who's actually from Ireland playing a southern American without flaw, succeeds with ease in showing us the several layers of humanity Bozz possesses. Bozz's arrogance comes from shear intelligence, he actually is smarter than the average bear, and that's why we look up to him instead of resent him. He has no problem looking authority in the eye and addressing them by their first names and he'd rather do a hundred push-ups than let the military strip him of his will. Much of this comes from the fluid, naturalistic script (Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther), but it is Farrell's smooth delivery that makes it work. As a lieutenant displays the proper way to attach electrodes to a vietnamese prisoner's testicles, Bozz walks off. The bloodthirsty lieutenant shouts, "Where do you think you're going?" Bozz calmly responds, "Why would I want to do that to another human being?" and then goes and smokes a cigarette. The audience claps and cheers. Matthew Davis gives us a Paxton that also has more depth than we're used to seeing in the average American Joe role. Paxton wasn't drafted, he enlisted out of a sense of duty most would find either misguided or sick, but his devotion to doing what is "right" makes him more like Bozz. All of the actors do a fine job. Clifton Collins, Jr. stands out as Miter, whose character is one of the examples of how screwed up military life is - if you work harder, you'll get promoted, everyone will disrespect you and you'll have to work even harder. Collins has actually been in quite a few movies, none of them good ones (unless you count the guilty pleasure of Fortress), but he has always been able to hold his own on screen. Thomas Guiry delivers a moving performance as Cantwell, a poor simpleton who has no business being drafted away from his family, and Shea Whigham is frightening as Wilson, the kill-kill-kill racist maniac that unfortunately was no rarity in boot camp.

I think it ends a little abruptly and arguably with the only cheesey tracking shot in the whole movie and some intellectually empty voice over. And it's not really clear what keeps the military from just torturing Bozz and throwing him in military prison for his insubordination. He's much like a legend that you wish were true, but is not very likely. But I left the theater satisfied and thinking. Which was worse? America invading a small foreign country to install a dummy government in the hopes of destroying a popular revolution that arguably threatened our capitalist interests... or America destroying the lives of thousands upon thousands of young American citizens to brutalize them into enough callousness that they could kill and kill again? Good movie.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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