Tigerland

on October 06, 2000 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   Director Joel Schumacher, best known for glossy Hollywood movies like "Batman and Robin" and "A Time to Kill," brings us their exact opposite with "Tigerland," a very gritty Vietnam War drama mostly shot with hand-held cameras.

   It's 1971, and the American people and U.S. military brass know they're beginning to lose the war. Soldiers, however, are still being sent off to fight in Vietnam. One such unit is currently stationed at grimy Fort Polk, Louisiana, an undistinguished piece of real estate that is about to liven up when a rebel draftee named Bozz (Colin Farrell) enters the picture. He's sassy, determined and, slowly, he's beginning to make a difference, as he starts to get his friends exempted from the conflict.

   Bozz, a George Clooney lookalike, is too good to be true--though, like the whole no-name cast, Farrell is excellent--and the film's contrasting of him with volunteer writer/soldier Paxton (Matthew Davis) was handled much better by Oliver Stone in "Platoon." But the strength of "Tigerland" is in the details: the near-documentary look of Fort Polk, the monotonous, profane insults of the unit commanders and the riveting portrait of army rituals.

   The film reaches heights of complexity in its depiction of the higher-ups at Fort Polk. Some are sadists, to be sure, as are some of the grunts, but most just want to educate their charges on how to survive combat in Vietnam. After the My Lai massacre, however, the soldiers can barely disguise their contempt for their superiors.

   It's a corner of the time that hasn't been captured before on film. In that respect, it's much like "84 Charlie Mopic", another "small," impressive film that followed an army unit, strictly through the eyes of a cameraman. "Tigerland," too, is a worthy addition to the Vietnam War film genre. Starring Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis and Clifton Collins, Jr. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Steven Haft and Beau Flynn. A Fox release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 97 min

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