Vietnam was such a degrading experience for America. Our government lost not only the fifteen year-long jungle adventure, but it also lost the respect and trust of the people, a loss that is still being felt today. Speaking as one who could never comprehend the horrors of war, it is nevertheless a true testament to the bravery of the men and women of our great nation that people willingly signed up to fight a battle they knew little about in a country the had never heard of before to protect what they felt were the vested interests of American citizens. Were our ideas as a nation misguided and naive when it came to communism, socialism, and the tendency of two countries with the same economic system to join forces? Perhaps. But it does not diminish the bravery of the troops, no matter what our reasons going in were. Today’s film, Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland, is a strange if not compelling look at a different kind of bravery shown on our home front, and though it is not great, it might just be Joel Schumacher’s best film.
The story takes place at Ft. Polk in Louisiana in 1971. It is an infantry training camp for recruits to prepare them for what they will face in Vietnam. New recruit Roland Bozz was recently drafted and has been sent here to receive the proper training. He is vehemently opposed to the war and isn’t afraid of who knows it. This directs a lot of negative attention his way from the camp’s officers and some of the recruits. He does find his niche though, when he meets up with fellow recruit Paxton and the two find fast friendship and (probably) something more. The training brings out the natural leader in him, and he is promoted to a squad leader within the camp, but he turns out to have an even more uncanny talent to aid his fellow soldiers. Bozz apparently can find a way for almost anyone to get out of the army; loopholes, injuries, and all sorts of excuses not to fight. He is constantly asked by soldiers how to get out, and even once by an officer! Bozz’s rowdy peacenik ways begin to raise the ire of one recruit in particular, a bigoted, ignorant young man named Wilson. He cannot stand the sight of this compassionate, sensitive guy being sent up the ranks while he is left to languish, going so far as to threaten to kill our young hero. As this confrontation escalates, our young soldiers are sent to the last stop before Vietnam, a vivid training ground recreation of what the war will be like called Tigerland. Will Bozz find a way out of the war before it is too late? Will Wilson really go through with his pledge to kill him? What future does this hellish training ground portend for all these frightened young men?
A pretty good war movie from a totally unexpected source. Joel Schumacher is the source of much derision at my household because of his inability to relate anything resembling human emotion in his films. Almost anything in his oeuvre, perhaps with the exception of Falling Down, is devoid of anything warm and relatable, instead opting to take us on a trip down the non-sequitur Schumacher rabbit hole of awkward dialog and unconvincing sexual tension. This time, however, we find ourselves as an audience taken away to something very genuine. The war seems ever so close, even on American soil. The courage displayed by these young men is on full display, even as they try to get out of the fighting. The dialog, while heavy with rigmarole on the older officer characters, rolls along when the young soldiers march into the scene. Colin Farrell’s character, Bozz, while a bit of a flawless, Jesus-like archetype, does resonate on an emotional level, and that might be Schumacher’s greatest victory here.
I will not say that Colin Farrell is a good actor. I will not do it. I will say that here is directed with enough skill to keep him from sucking the life out of this picture, but I cannot accurately describe how little I think of him as a professional. He is a pretty-boy who must have not taken a whole lot of classes before he dropped out of The Gaiety School of Acting (I do my research), because on the whole I find him quite repulsive. In Tigerland, he and Schumacher do their best here to make sure he doesn’t make the film implode, and it works. I like Bozz as a character, and I actually care about him enough to hope he isn’t beaten to death by Wilson, played by Shea Whigham, an actor who might just be better than Farrell despite being billed 5th instead of 1st.
I mentioned much earlier that there is an underlying homoerotic tone to Bozz’s and Paxton’s relationship. I am not making any pokes at Schumacher’s sexuality here, but I will say that while he never shows anything to confirm it, I am 90% sure that these two characters slept together. Paxton, played by Matthew Davis, gives off some serious vibes to Bozz all throughout the movie. I don’t know how much of that is reciprocated, but it is very real. If that bothers you, I suggest you go down the 10% route of leniency I gave this film, and just assume that these two shirtless sweaty pretty-boys are just really, really good friends. I think there need to be some more gay war movies, personally. If anyone has any recommendations, please leave them in the comments section.
So, all in all, pretty good. Farrell does not make me loathe him, Schumacher keeps his feet planted on the ground, and the supporting cast performs with enough oomph to keep me interested in them. It is not a perfect movie, but it does shed light on an unorthodox heroism that existed during one of the most trying times for our nation, and for that it must be commended. I give Tigerland 7 1/2 shirtless sweaty pretty boys out of 10. If you are not comfortable with homosexuality in your war movie, just ignore it. Or, even better, fuck off.
See you tomorrow, where we fall down into the depths of Dante’s Inferno!