Directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr, Thomas Guiry and Shea Whigham
Nothing on Joel Schumacher's CV quite prepares you for 'Tigerland'. The man who made 'St Elmo's Fire', 'Flatliners' and 'Batman and Robin' making an ensemble piece? On 16mm? With an unknown Irishman?
It's 1971, America is ten years into Vietnam and morale has long gone AWOL. On a military base down in Louisiana, a group of young men gather to complete their basic training before shipping out to the war zone. There's Paxton (Davis), an upstate New Yorker who overdosed on Hemingway in his teens and wants to write the great war novel; Miter (Collins), a former butcher whose own father describes him as a "dumbass bastard"; Cantwell (Guiry), a good ol' boy who's been married since age 15; Wilson (Whigham), a bag of nerves trying to play the hard man and crazy diamond Bozz (Farrell). While the rest of the group can be split between stupid and misguided, Bozz is smart enough to know he's not hanging around for the free body bag. He wants to escape to Mexico and he's determined to drill some sense into the others before he leaves.
61-year-old Schumacher is never going to win the Academy Award for Subtlety and while 'Tigerland' finds him stuck in a pill box on the moral high ground, blasting out 'WAR IS WRONG!' at every opportunity, it also represents an established, studio director coming down with a serious dose of later life courage. He could've made it with a big cast, thrown in a couple of set pieces with 70's songs over them and helped sell a million soundtracks in the process. Instead, with its hand held camera and haunting score, 'Tigerland' looks like the eerie home movie of a lost generation. The script (by real life 'Tigerland' survivor Ross Klavan) is a cross between 'Full Metal Jacket' and 'Cool Hand Luke', but even riddled with clichés like the unhinged Sergeant and dormitory punch-up, it nevertheless captures the battle between pride and terror in each soldier's mind.
While the cast turn in superb performances (from Miter's heartbreaking confession on his own shortcomings to Wilson's slide from mouth to psycho), the film belongs to Farrell. Schumacher has helped the careers of the likes of Demi Moore and Julia Roberts in the past, but the Dubliner represents his best find yet. In his first starring role, the temptation must have been great to grandstand and turn Bozz into a larger than life character, instead he downplays the Texan tearaway but still manages to blow everyone else off screen. Great white hypes are nothing new (Matthew McConaughey, Skeet Ulrich) but Farrell's looks always take second place to his performance and suggest that this is just basic training for a highly decorated career.