Tigerland-2001-movie-posterIs this film available for rent on Netflix Instant and/or through the iTunes Store? Tigerland is available for rent through the iTunes store, but not through Netflix Instant.

Film directors, including the best of them, will every once in awhile put out a flop that if it does not become career crippling, it will be discussed for a long time or at least until that director redeems himself/herself with a better film. Steven Spielberg did this with 1941 (which he redeemed himself with Raiders of the Lost Ark), Rob Reiner had North (which he sort of redeemed himself with The American President), Brian De Palma did this with The Bonfire of the Vanities (which he redeemed himself with Mission: Impossible), and Michael Cimino did this with Heaven’s Gate, which is considered to be one of the worst flops of all time. Cimino did not come back from this film and he eventually became forgotten.

Director Joel Schumacher, a name now synonymous with Satan among comic book geeks, was chosen by Warner Bros. brass to take over the studio’s lucrative Batman franchise after Tim Burton stepped down after helming the disappointing Batman Returns. Schumacher was already a fairly well-regarded filmmaker with such well-received hits as The Lost Boys and Falling Down (as well as the less well-received St. Elmo’s Fire and Dying Young). Schumacher’s first Batman film, Batman Forever, was unexpectedly popular among both fans and critics and so it was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. to continue having him direct the next Bat-installment. And this is where things went wrong. Horribly wrong. Batman & Robin was an atrocious disaster that made everyone, including me, wonder how in hell we could have ever thought that the previous Batman Forever was any good. The box office failure of Batman & Robin caused Warner Bros. to stop the Batman franchise for almost 10 years. In the meantime, despite his past successes (which also included the most excellent A Time to Kill), Joel Schumacher’s name became synonymous with the destruction of the Batman franchise and the addition of nipples on Batman’s costume.

Enter the year 2000. Following two earlier films (8mm and Flawless) that were met with middling success, Schumacher released a small indie film about the Vietnam War. The film was called Tigerland and it redeemed Joel Schumacher as a quality filmmaker as well as introducing the world to a talented Irish actor named Colin Farrell. Tigerland is a Vietnam film that is not set in Vietnam. Instead, the story takes place in an Army training camp located in Fort Polk, Louisiana. The training camp is called Tigerland and it was designed to replicate as closely as possible real conditions in Vietnam. Colin Farrell is Roland Bozz, a rebellious Texan who, like his compadres, was drafted into the Army against his better wishes. Bozz is a constant thorn in the Army’s side as he refuses to follow his drill sergeant’s orders or follow the protocols of the training camp. Bozz also has no intention of going to Vietnam to fight in a war that by 1971 was widely viewed as an unpopular and lost struggle for the United States. The film also introduces us to a cast of characters who, like Bozz, are drafted soldiers being groomed for battle in Vietnam.

To me, Colin Farrell is an actor who, although not a bad actor by any means, is not someone I get excited about when I see him on a poster or in a trailer. Farrell has starred in many movies since being discovered in Tigerland and a few have even been great. However, by and large, Colin Farrell’s career has failed to gain the stratospheric trajectory of actors like Tom Cruise, George Clooney, or Jodie Foster. Farrell tried (or I should say his agent tried) to be the superstar that Hollywood envisioned him to be, but such big missteps as Alexander, Hart’s War, and Miami Vice lowered his stock and value in the eyes of our pop culture-consuming masses. Unfortunately, I watched Tigerland after seeing Farrell in these and many other films, which colored my perception of his talents and appeal. I wonder how I would have evaluated Farrell’s performance in Tigerland had I seen his performance upon the film’s initial release.

Colin Farrell does a decent job as Bozz Roland. He’s a likeable and funny guy who quickly gains the respect of his Army buddies. His role comes off as an amalgamation of Tom Cruise’s Maverick character in Top Gun and Matthew Broderick’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Of course, Bozz Roland does not reach anywhere near the iconic status of those 80’s characters, but Farrell brings enough of his real-life Irish bad boy, mischievous self to make the character interesting. An interesting to note is that Colin Farrell speaks with a west Texas accent, which he remarkably pulls off without the aid of a dialect coach.

A big issue I had with the Bozz Roland character was that the character did not have a lot of personal conflicts to deal with and what conflicts did exist, they were resolved easily. For instance, throughout the film Bozz struggles internally as to whether he should care about the problems of his Army buddies and help them out or whether he should ignore other people’s problems and focus on getting out of the Army. Predictably, Bozz reaches a point toward the end of the movie where he must make a final choice. The times throughout the movie where Bozz supposedly struggles between helping his friends and looking out for himself do not present Bozz with tough circumstances and he always seems to easily arrive at a decision. The second conflict Bozz deals with is his rivalry with Private Wilson (Shea Whigham), a racist soldier who desires to serve his country regardless of whether or not the United States is losing the war. Even here, this physical conflict lacks weight because Private Wilson is presented more as an incompetent buffoon that Bozz always has the upper hand over.

The film has a good cast of supporting characters despite each and every character fitting into a stereotypical mold that we have already seen in other Vietnam War films. You have Matthew Davis playing Private Jim Paxton, a well-educated, introspective, and aspiring writer from New York. There is Clifton Collins, Jr. as Private Milter, the soldier who wants to prove to himself and everyone else that he can lead his squad only to end up failing in the end. There is the aforementioned antagonist, Private Wilson, played by Shea Whigham. The supporting actors, all ambitious young Hollywood actors trying to show the best of their talents, do the best that they can with a script that is average at best. If you are a Michael Shannon fan (if you don’t know who he is, make sure to check him out in Take Shelter), you will enjoy his brief appearance in the film playing a sergeant who shows the soldiers how to interrogate a Viet Cong. Another noteworthy appearance is made toward the end of the film by the underrated actor Cole Hauser, who plays another sergeant responsible for training the soldiers upon their arrival in Tigerland.

Aside from the shaky cam that became very popular in the early 2000’s and that is used to a somewhat, but not intolerably annoying effect here, Tigerland has a very nice visual look that is gripping (shot by Darren Aronofsky’s cohort, Matthew Libatique). Schumacher gives the film a grainy, bleached-out look that beautifully and authentically evokes the early 1970’s. I imagine Schumacher wanted to get away from the slick, polished MTV look most of his films have in order to show that he too can play in the dirt along with the other upstart indie directors. The scenes that take place in the bars that Bozz and Paxton visit look especially cool and they served as a reminder that Joel Schumacher’s talents lie far more in creating a visual aesthetic than in telling a story.

Tigerland is an anti-establishment, anti-Vietnam War film. And I have no problem with that given my personal views on the war and my conviction that a good war movie must be an anti-war movie. At the same time, the anti-establishment attitude displayed by Bozz Roland is antiquated by now. Had this film come out in the 1970’s, it would have been refreshing to see a character like Bozz taking on the system. We saw this with such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Vanishing Point, and Network. Today, however, watching someone stand up to the system comes off as being naïve and childish. Perhaps I have become too cynical over time, but I view Bozz less as a symbol of freedom or an inspiration and more as a fool who hasn’t thought things properly through as to how he can manageably beat the system.

A major missed opportunity for Schumacher and his screenwriters (Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther) was any real exploration of the racial divide between whites and blacks. Especially in a movie like Tigerland, set in the Deep South in 1971 in a camp full of Southerners, such a sub-plot could have provided some much needed tension. Sure, we have Private Wilson, but he is one single racist who also happens to be a murderous sociopath. Racism was pervasive throughout the South and it should have occupied an important place in the story.

A far better film that shows the life of a military boot camp in the Vietnam War and the futility of sending soldiers overseas is Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Tigerland is a somewhat commendable attempt by Joel Schumacher, but most of this credit comes from the fact that nobody, including myself, expected Schumacher to make a halfway decent indie movie.

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