Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
by Jon Cvack
I watched this and When Trumpets Fade ('98) back to back. I figured When Trumpets Fade would be cheap and cheesy, and Tigerland would be a decent film. It has 7.0/10 on IMDb, which means it’s a good enough move to check out on my meter (which - with the exception of cast/director/writing/awesome concept/horror film/and a few other reasons - anything equal or below a 6.9 will probably get ignored more often than not). Tigerland was directed by Joel Schumacher of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin fame, who made the fantastic choice to shoot the whole film on 16mm. I will admit that my HBO Go connection was about as low as it got, so I really missed out on a lot of the grit, and believe this did impact the viewing. Nevertheless, this was one of the stranger movie going experiences I’ve had. The whole time I was expecting to follow these soldiers from boot camp to the camp close to Vietnam called Tigerland and then finally onto the front line. I swear, when this movie cut to black, I thought it was only ⅔ ‘s over and the action was finally about to begin.
It takes uninspired cues from two films - Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket, which is glaringly obvious that I’m almost glad my connection was so bad just so the plagiaristic Saving Private Ryan photography wasn’t as clear. The problem is that instead of presenting interesting situations and characters - as presented in nearly every war film - Tigerland relies on one mildly interesting character, Private Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell), who's a rebellious soldier with absolutely no respect for authority. Beyond him, the only person that I can recall with any semblance of distinction, was an idealistic college kid who wanted to write about the war, Private Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis).
I came across one review (which after looking at BBC, New York Times, SF Gate, and Rolling Stone I still can’t find and don’t care to look) proclaiming how great Farrell’s accent was, which is strange because I kept thinking how often it was cutting back to his Irish droll, particularly after they were crawling through barbed wire and, contrary to their squad leader’s orders, Bozz instructed the men to stay down, starting a massive shit storm, though it wasn’t entirely clearly what the problem was with moving forward, forcing Bozz to have to explain himself and his Irish Brogue really came out.
There’s a lot of reflection amongst the characters about what it all means, and there’s one kid in the dining hall who talks about the moon shining, but I was so cringed out that I actually stopped listening to what he was saying and started thinking about how much it’d suck to have to peel that many potatoes. The movie was completely and entirely too heavy and all too often. Everything and everyone was the extreme. We meet Sergeant Fillmore (Michael Shannon, which was a pleasure to see), demonstrating how to use a field radio to shock enemy testicles; how one soldier is just so mad at Bozz for his rebellious and cavalier attitude that he’s willing to pull a formula somewhere between Full Metal Jacket and Chucky 3, weighing toward the latter and considering placing a live round into his gun to shoot him during a field exercise; and we learn how the only thing you need to go home is a solid excuse and Bozz is the one who can get that excuse, and yet he never actually uses the excuse because, well, that would be too obvious and less complex.
The movie was so determined to be real and serious that the little humor it contained was lost completely. As makes any film bad, there was just too much serious stuff going on, never allowing us to see the bonds of war. While watching this, I was taking a Coursera Course from Princeton which I recommend, called ‘Paradoxes of War’. One of the lessons was about the inevitable and incredibly strong camaraderie that develops in battle. It’s an idea that I recall hearing most clearly in Flags of Our Fathers, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers; that what’s most important is not killing the enemy, nor the greater battle or war, but those who are around you; like a chain, you are bound by the understanding that they will fight for you and you therefore need to fight for them. Such conditions forge some of the most important and significant relationships of these soldiers lives. It’s what was missing from Tigerland. With the exception of Bozz and Paxton it all felt so empty, and even they didn’t feel that genuine. The characters were so flatly drawn out. A writer and rebel; that’s really all we get from them. No nuance, and no more than each other. I was disappointed.
BELOW: Slim pickings on the YouTube front, so here's Colin Farrell's audition tape
Thoughts on films, old and new
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