Connect with us

Disc Reviews

Tigerland [Blu-ray] | DVD Review

“The film attempts to score some anti-war relevancy points in the late stages, as Paxton derisively mutters that a vicious training exercise is “just like My Lai”, but Schumacher’s heart isn’t in it.”

Produced in 2000, Tigerland appropriates the structures, styles and symbols of the great Vietnam War films, and in return delivers a safe, shallow popcorn flick with a distinct made-for-TV feel; a sort of grungy, profane Lifetime movie for guys. Set in 1971 at Fort Polk, Louisiana – the self proclaimed second worst place on Earth – the film follows a company of grunts, largely draftees, through the intense rigors of basic training, leading to a harrowing week of simulated combat in a backwoods jungle swamp. Along the way, the viewer is treated to a variety of war movie clichés, strangely shifting photographic styles, heavy handed manipulations and shaky rationalizations. Ironically, the movie has no shortage of conviction and, like Fort Polk, seems to exist in a universe of peculiar logic and trumped up rules and regulations, without regard for any real world beyond its own sprocket holes.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, known for brisk, engaging entertainments that flirt with the edges of serious social issues, Tigerland focuses on the insubordinate exploits of Private Bozz (Colin Farrell), a free spirited conscript from Texas who, thus far, appears to have spent the majority of his basic training in the stockade. His hunky sidekick Paxton (Matthew Davis), fellow grunt and aspiring writer – these types of movies always have an aspiring writer somewhere in the mix – serves as a gee whiz, awestruck foil.

And Farrell is worthy of awe. In the year 2000, fresh from the set of the popular BBC series Ballykissangel, Farrell stepped in front of Tigerland’s cameras for his American debut, and never looked back. His performance is taut and spare with every word, glance and movement sharply homed into Bozz’s rebellious soul. Farrell’s vocal evocation of Texas is credible and consistent, and overall the performance packs so much charisma that when the script asks us to believe Fort Polk’s hard-ass D.I.s put up with Bozz’s antics because he’s “a natural born leader”, it’s only moderately preposterous.

If only the same could be said for the balance of the proceedings. Early in the film, Farrell is released from the brig just in time to go AWOL for the weekend (what?), and follows his fellow maggots into town for some well earned debauchery. At a bar apparently decorated by voodoo practitioners, he and Paxton gain the attentions of two local “born and bred” sluts, but the girls’ Ohio-flat accents have not a trace of bayou drawl. After the inevitable schtupping – which Schumacher depicts with gratuitous sweaty, orgy-esque athleticism – Bozz and Paxton have a deep, tender – and quite homoerotic – discussion of Army life in the buff, while their dates clamor to be taken to breakfast.

Back at the base, Michael Shannon, proving that he could easily steal a movie even back then, instructs the trainees on methods of torturing Vietcong prisoners using radio batteries clamped to genitalia, and Bozz is so appalled he simply walks away from the lesson in favor of a woodland stroll. When confronted by the livid Sgt. Landers (Afemo Omilani), Bozz’s quiet demeanor diffuses the situation, and the men end up sharing Marlboros and civil discourse. After going to great lengths to establish Ft. Polk’s atmosphere of brutal discipline, Schumacher’s kumbayah moment seems outrageously contrived; something better suited to an episode of Hogan’s Heroes than any serious depiction of infantry training.

Race relations come to the fore when a tight-knit group of black draftees are constantly harassed by a stereotypical gung-ho bigot named Wilson (Shea Whigham). Schumacher is quick to use these incidents to establish the mentally unbalanced Wilson as the film’s villain, but never addresses this important issue in any meaningful way. None of the black soldiers are developed as memorable characters and their only narrative contributions consist of serving as victims. In a tacky addition of insult to injury, Schumacher includes them singing the film’s closing theme in a Boyz II Men style a cappella.

Tigerland, which until now had borne a passing resemblance to Full Metal Jacket, switches stylistic gears for the big finale – the week of simulated mud bog warfare – and becomes a sort of road company Apocalypse Now. Schumacher lays on the atmospherics with a trowel, with smoke, torrential rain and the ghostly shades of soldiers in ponchos adding to the forbidding gloom. Composer Nathan Larson breaks out the trusty Korg for creepy synth licks that are more than a mere homage to Coppola’s masterpiece; they’re virtually a sonic recreation. The film attempts to score some anti-war relevancy points in the late stages, as Paxton derisively mutters that a vicious training exercise is “just like My Lai”, but Schumacher’s heart isn’t in it. It’s clear he wanted to make a middlebrow war adventure with lots of sweat and dirt and guns and helmets and things and, like his assemblage of grunts, he largely achieved his objective.

Releasing a film shot in 16mm on blu-ray may seem, well, counterintuitive, but Tigerland’s strong visuals are up to the challenge. Cameraman Matthew Libatique, who has gone on to such greener pastures as the Iron Man franchise and Black Swan, does a credible job of synthesizing a variety of styles and techniques to reflect the story’s shifting moods. While its debatable if such extreme variations are always in good taste, there’s no denying Tigerland is an interesting film to look at. Presented in 1.85, the transfer is very clean and consistent in its overall look of desaturation.

The 5.1 track feels a bit sparse due to the original mix, and I’m not an advocate of busy audio. While not technically a combat movie, Tigerland does feature many scenes with live ammo and the mix lacks that explosive punch we’ve come to expect. The dialogue is rendered clearly, but some of the actors have careless enunciation that made us reach for the subtitles. Ironically, Irishman Colin Farrell, the ersatz Texan, has the most precisely controlled line readings of the lot.

Audio Commentary with Joel Schumacher
The director joins us for a screening of Tigerland, and he delivers a wealth of biographical information on virtually every actor in the film’s large, ensemble cast. He describes meeting the then unknown Colin Farrell in England, and their immediate rapport. The film, shot in only 28 days, put enormous pressure on the crew, and Schumacher generously thanks and credits all of them. Schumacher goes into great depth about his feelings about the Vietnam War, and gives an insightful and painful description of how that hated conflict profoundly affected lives and divided families. It’s surprising so little of that thoughtful sensibility was actually brought to the screen. This offering will be of interest to fans of Farrell and Schumacher, but it doesn’t reveal much in the way of juicy tidbits on how the film was actually made.

The Real Tigerland
This documentary is a terrifying account of life at Fort Polk, featuring the recollections of a group of Vietnam veterans, including screenwriter Ross Klavan. Amid the tales of brutal officers and unimaginably harsh conditions is the surprising sense of just how deeply unpopular this war was, even to those training to fight it. At 22 minutes, the piece is a moving and highly effective presentation of the no-win dilemma faced by young men of draft age in the 1960s and early 70s, and the tremendous sacrifices their country demanded of them; all for a highly questionable cause.

Joel Schumacher: Journey to Tigerland
Basically an on-camera rehash of highlights from Schumacher’s commentary track, this 10 minute piece provides one interesting revelation. Despite some good reviews, Tigerland was considered a flop by its producers and never widely released. The film didn’t become profitable, or even well known, until it hit the DVD market.

Ross Klavan: Ode to Tigerland
Here, the screenwriter discusses the basis of the Bozz character, and recounts a number of his army experiences and how he incorporated them into the script. He describes his first meeting with Joel Schumacher and how he overcame initial misgivings about the director.

A fairly standard issue marketing piece, this four minute assemblage features sound bites from Schumacher, Farrell and Davis interspersed with montages from the film. There’s really nothing included here that hasn’t been previously covered.

Casting Session with Colin Farrell
Taken from a dingy VHS casting tape, these selected scenes show the then unknown Farrell slowly getting a handle on the Bozz character. There’s some unintentional humor as we see that Farrell’s initial attempt at Texas speak was way too broad and thick. It probably didn’t help that the casting agent reading along with him had a very proper British accent, making the whole exchange seem like Queen Elizabeth conversing with Foghorn Leghorn. Still, Farrell fans will find this look into his humble origins worthwhile.

The film’s theatrical trailer is exciting, involving and magnificently edited. I’ve long been of the opinion that trailer editors are the unsung heroes of Hollywood, and this well crafted teaser is strong supporting evidence.

TV Spot: One Man
This 30 second commercial for the film features narration from the late great Don Fontaine – or one of his legions of imitators – and yes, does feature the classic opening line “In a world…”

TV Spot: Compelling Review
Visually the same spot as above, but this version contains quotations from positive reviews.

Tigerland is one of those films that begs the question “why?” It treads familiar territory, adding nothing new to the impressive vault of Vietnam films already in existence. It is not in the league of the classics of the genre, and while it attempts to tell a smaller scale story than, say, Platoon, it doesn’t even achieve that in any memorable way. But there’s no such mystery about the reason for this blu-ray release; it’s clearly an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Colin Farrell. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed, Farrell’s American debut is a performance of charismatic splendor, and deserves every effort to rescue it from obscurity. If only that performance were not surrounded by such dreck.

Reviewed by David Anderson

Movie rating – 2.5

Disc Rating – 2.5

Continue Reading
You may also like...

David Anderson is a 25 year veteran of the film and television industry, and has produced and directed over 2000 TV commercials, documentaries and educational videos. He has filmed extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean for such clients as McDonalds, General Motors and DuPont. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Reygadas (Silent Light), Weerasathakul (Syndromes and a Century), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Caché), Ceylon (Climates), Andersson (You the Living), Denis (35 Shots of Rum), Malick (The Tree of Life), Leigh (Another Year), Cantet (The Class)

Click to comment

More in Disc Reviews

To Top