Tigerland (2000)

(On DVD, May 2011) Director Joel Schumacher’s public profile arguably peaked in the late nineties with his disastrous stint as the director of the two worst Batman movies ever made.  Upon its release, Tigerland had been hailed as a return to form for the director and it’s easy to see why even a decade later: A Vietnam movie set entirely stateside, this drama studies the gradual transformation of a cynical young man as he goes through infantryman training in anticipation of a foreign deployment.  The harsh reality of the training is well-depicted, but it’s really then-unknown Colin Farrell’s performance as Roland Bozz that holds all the attention.  Mirroring contemporary audiences’ mindset, Bozz knows that Vietnam is a prodigious waste, has read all of the anti-war books and has little patience for the charade of training.  He’s a free spirit stuck in a machine grinding down everyone to the same component pieces.  It would have been easy for the film to turn into a comedy in which an unrepentant Bozz knows best, or a crude anti-war statement in which the only way out is to get out.  But Tigerland is after something slightly different in putting Bozz up against other facets of morality and the logical consequences of his own compassion.  There’s a lesson in leadership there, in reluctant responsibility and in the humanity to be found in even the most inhuman structures.  It helps that Tigerland’s dialogue are a notch over the average, and that the film feels gripping even though solely set during the training phase.  The film earned some critical notice upon release but practically no commercial success, thus qualifying for an evergreen “hidden gem” recommendation.  Never mind the often too-grainy cinematography and the impression that half the actors look like each other: This is a decent Vietnam picture, and it has a bit more than the usual in mind.

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