Monday, 22 March 2021

Mubi Monday: Tigerland (2000)

A Vietnam war movie with a difference, this focuses on a group of soldiers who are being trained at an infamous area named Tigerland. Standing out from the group, Pvt. Bozz (Colin Farrell) is clearly not wanting to be there. He won't get himself out of the forces, however, but does annoy the higher-ups by helping to get some other solders their freedom. This makes him about as popular as a sneeze in a supermarket in 2020, as you can imagine, but he's tough enough to take all of the negativity aimed his way. He's not bulletproof though, which makes it a lot more difficult when one soldier (Wilson, played by Shea Wigham) has a building level of rage that would make it best for him to be kept away from all guns and ammo.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, this is the film that first sold Colin Farrell as a star leading man, basically. He would spend the next decade or so being misused in all kinds of roles that just weren't right for him (Farrell is actually an excellent character actor with the looks and charisma of a blockbuster star), but revisiting Tigerland allows you to see just what Schumacher saw in him. He's confident, charming, smart, witty, and elevates what is already an excellent premise.

A million miles away from his usual slick, over the top, approach, Schumacher relies on a cast of quality actors and a great script by Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther, both newcomers to screenwriting (in terms of credited jobs anyway). Klavan and McGruther know all of the standard war movie moments that we've seen so many times before, and they use the character of Bozz to navigate and subvert most of them, whether it's the angry instructor picking on someone who can't keep up the pace or a butting of heads between soldiers and a leader who seems to often make the wrong decisions while parroting the lines about duty and military ways.

I've already said enough about Farrell, and it's slightly unfair to let his performance completely overshadow everyone else, but the other cast members generally do just as well. Matthew Davis is Paxton, the one who observes Bozz for the majority of the runtime, and the one narrating the full story. Davis is a bit bland, but that's fine for how his character is used. He's the observer. Clifton Collins Jr. has a great character arc, playing Miter, someone who resents Bozz while he's trying to keep the rest of the squad in check, and Whigham is brilliantly loathsome for most of his scenes, moving from a standard nasty asshole to full-on "Private Pile" by the third act.

There are a number of unbelievable moments here and there, including a heart to heart between Bozz and a tough leader who gives him some time to explain his perspective (when you just know that time would have been spent with the latter chewing out the former), but the grounding of the drama, and the setting of the training area itself, makes it all feel a bit less cheesy and cliché-ridden.


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