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With: Colin Farrell, Clifton Collins Jr., Tom Guiry, Russell Richardson, Cole Hauser, Michael Shannon
Written by: Ross Klavan, Michael McGruther
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
MPAA Rating: R for violence, pervasive language, a scene of strong sexuality and some drug use
Running Time: 100
Date: 13/09/2000

Tigerland (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A John Wayne Movie Without John Wayne

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The best thing about war movies is the insults that drill sergeants sling at hapless privates during boot camp. No one shows more creativity in putting together degrading language like "you motherless dirt bag! Drop and give me twenty!" Though Tigerland lacks drill sergeant heavyweights like Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman), Warren Oates (Stripes), or R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), it still has some pretty good one-liners.

Tigerland is an attempt by director Joel Schumacher to gain some filmmaking cred back after such disasters as Batman & Robin (1997), 8mm (1999), and Flawless (1999), and he succeeds. Taking a cue from the Dogma credo and shooting with hand-held 16mm cameras, Schumacher strips down his story and style until he has nothing left but bare-bones storytelling. Truth be told, he comes close to making a Samuel Fuller-type war film here (on the level of Merrill's Marauders), and, from me, that's high praise indeed.

It's 1971, and a handful of new recruits (played by mostly unknown actors) prepare to be shipped off to Vietnam. After training for a few weeks in boot camp, they'll be sent to Tigerland, a simulated Vietnam, dubbed "the second most horrible place on earth." Our main character, Bozz (Colin Farrell), is a smart-mouthed freedom fighter not interested in patriotism but in staying alive. "We don't know how it'll turn out over there," says Bozz' commanding officer, "we don't know who comes home alive." "That's not the kind of alive I'm talking about," says Bozz.

Bozz' secret agenda is to try to get himself out of the Army and out of Vietnam any way he can. But he's a natural born leader unable to run. Instead he gets as many of his comrades out as he can through various and clever legal and respectable methods.

Though Farrell is no John Wayne, he still gives a remarkable performance in what would be the John Wayne role. Moreover, Tigerland essentially adds up to one of those old-fashioned war movies that our fathers and grandfathers enjoyed so much at Saturday matinees, just after the cartoon and newsreel... the kind of movie they don't make anymore. In those old movies, directed by Fuller, John Ford, and others, war was a necessary evil that you participated in if you believed you owed your country something. They made the battles and heroism exciting, even though it was clear that the characters would rather not be there.

Today, war movies demonstrate against war with all kinds of fussing and noble flag-waving, and though great films have come of it (The Thin Red Line), it can get tedious and self-important (parts of Saving Private Ryan). Tigerland keeps its anti-war posturing in the background, like Ford and Fuller did. As a result, the film has the guts to actually be what it really is and not disguise itself as something more significant.

In 2011, Fox released a deluxe Blu-ray of this neglected film; it comes with a commentary track by director Schumacher, featurettes, footage from Farrell's casting session, and trailers and TV spots.

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