If you thought filmmakers had adequately covered the Vietnam war after Platoon won the Oscar in 1986, well, you may have been right. With a few key exceptions (We Were Soldiers, for one), the movies of the time are also the best examples of that time. While it may be impossible to top Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and even the slightly later Full Metal Jacket, filmmakers didn’t stop trying.
Oliver Stone went back with Born on the Fourth of July. Robert Zemeckis used the war as a main part of Forrest Gump. The Fog of War, a documentary on Robert S. McNamara, even won an Oscar as late as 2003. Now, get ready to add another name to the prestigious list of filmmakers who’ve tackled Hollywood’s choice war and come up with a film to be proud of: Joel Schumacher.
Yes, that’s same Joel Schumacher who gave Batman nipples. Yes, the same Schumacher who made one of the worst movies I saw last year, the abysmal teen drama Twelve. He’s also the man who made Colin Farrell a star (kind of) in the well crafted, exquisitely acted Tigerland. The two films actually share a few things more than the man who helmed each low-budget picture. They both feature an array of young unknowns in an ensemble cast, and both made next to nothing at the box office.
Only one deserved its low gross, though. While Twelve is horrifically acted, too long, and insignificant in message, Tigerland is the opposite. Colin Farrell, in a star-making role if I’ve ever seen one, plays Roland Bozz, a hellraiser and army-detractor drafted into service a few years before the end of the Vietnam War. Unrest and distrust is fairly rampant in his company, but the rest of the troops seem prepared to do whatever their commanding officer shouts at them just to get through. That is until Bozz starts getting men sent home.
Sharp as a tack when it comes to law and policy, Bozz finds loopholes in the system for a number of men and, in effect, saves their lives by keeping them from stepping foot on foreign soil. He’s a compelling character because his motives are unclear. He doesn’t give two licks about the war, its cause, or his superiors, but he develops a unique bond among the men as boot camp progresses. He’s reluctant to stick his neck out for them despite being overly eager to step on the toes of his loud-mouthed sergeant. He has to be pushed to react and that’s exactly what he does.
It’s in these reactions that Farrell shines. Though never his biggest fan, the Irishman’s charisma is undeniable. His turns in Alexander and In Bruges proved he could act when called upon, but those few who first saw Tigerland already knew. His eyes shimmer with the wet of a man about to break, but a smile appears, instead.
There’s plenty of scenes where Farrell could have completely lost it and taken it to the acting extreme, throwing tables, chairs, punching people, and weeping like a lost soul. He does some of these, but spaces them out, appropriately placing them in individual scenes rather than showboating in one grand display of acting.
Some of his costars manage to match him. Most notable are Shea Whigham and Clifton Collins Jr. as Bozz’s nemesis Pvt. Wilson and one of his beneficiaries Pvt. Miter (respectively). The two are given a few scenes to showcase their skills, but not too many as to overwhelm the rest of the talented cast. Schumacher actually manages the pacing of the movie quite well, never stalling on slow developing issues too long, never speeding through important subjects too quickly. He’s in control (for once), and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Blu-ray release of Tigerland carries with it a few enlightening special features, including Joel Schumacher: Journey to Tigerland, an honest interview with the director that hints at his disappointment regarding the film’s limited release. There’s also an interview with Ross Klavan, the film’s writer whose personal journey in Vietnam inspired his script.
There’s also eight engaging minutes of Colin Farrell’s casting sessions before he was a star or even hired to Tigerland. His charisma, even with a lousy Texan accent, is undeniably alluring. There’s no question as to how he helped make Tigerland relevant watching for war aficionados who thought they had already seen in all when it came to Vietnam.