I feel bad for Joel Schumacher, which is weird considering he could probably buy and sell my ass three times over with the residuals from The Lost Boys alone. Despite an initial string of successes the man’s name has become synonymous with Batman & Robin, a movie he has openly apologized for, which if you think about it indicates a modicum of class that most directors of shoddy big budget entertainment cannot boast. But he’s also directed some excellent films in his career. Aside from the aforementioned Lost Boys, this is the man who brought us the insightful cultural commentary of Falling Down, the fine legal thrillers A Time to Kill and The Client, and the underrated biographical drama Veronica Guerin. One of his best movies, for which he seems to receive no credit whatsoever, is Tigerland, a Vietnam War movie that curiously enough never actually gets to Vietnam. It’s the movie that made Colin Farrell a star, it’s a fine little drama, and it’s getting a posh Blu-Ray treatment from Fox this week just in time for Memorial Day.
Colin Farrell stars as Private Roland Bozz, a curious character indeed. He’s a born soldier, in the last stages of training before being shipped overseas, but he’s smart enough to want no part of the war. He could go AWOL, and often entertains the idea, but he doesn’t. He thrives on rebelling against the system, but knows that he can’t do so if he leaves it. So he backtalks his superiors and uses his knowledge of military regulations to get some of his less fortunate squad members honorable discharges. When confronted about his shenanigans, he kindly says the following, “I’m not quitting. I’m just not playing.”
By revolving around this kind of Hamlet-ish character, constantly waffling between action and inaction, Tigerland is more Catch-22 than Platoon. Or, since the film adaptation of Catch-22 wasn’t actually that good, let’s go with a better analogy: Tigerland is the first half of Full Metal Jacket, the part everyone likes, stretched into a feature film. It’s about the perils of indoctrination into a dangerous system and the toll it takes on soldiers who are unprepared for it, and one soldier in particular who may in fact be over-prepared. Farrell is electric in the role, which made him the hot new thing in Hollywood for a time, and which remains his finest on-screen performance to date. Farrell is an exceptional actor when given strong material, and Tigerland qualifies. Alas, he doesn’t seem entirely capable of brilliance without a great movie to back him up, and undercooked films like The Recruit or S.W.A.T. almost derailed his career before it began by giving him nothing to work with.
Joel Schumacher shot Tigerland on 16mm to create a documentary feel, and although the camerawork is sound the Blu-Ray presentation just isn’t terribly impressive. With a softer look and an overabundance of bleach bypass, which drains the film of color, Tigerland isn’t an great-looking film even in high definition. It’s effective, certainly, but unlike many of Schumacher’s other films it just isn’t very pretty. The lack of action also makes for a less-than-thrilling surround sound experience, but the rear channels do finally get a work out once the climax rolls around and live-fire training exercises begin in earnest. The Blu-Ray also boasts an impressive array of extras for a largely forgotten film, including a recycled director’s commentary track from the DVD, a slew of documentaries and Colin Farrell’s screen test. The latter is a real treat, at least from a historical perspective, and similar extras on discs like Devil in a Blue Dress and The Human Centipede have made screen tests a particular favorite of mine in these kinds of special editions.
Tigerland is an fine film that touches upon greatness and, while never actually shying away, doesn’t quite grasp it either. But it’s an excellent antidote to the usual gunfire-laced machismo found in the typical war movie, boasting excellent performances across the board. It’s one of Joel Schumacher’s best films, and Batman & Robin aside (okay, and Phantom of the Opera too) that is actually saying something. It’s a damned fine rental, and worth picking up for war movie enthusiasts or anyone who just thinks that Colin Farrell is super-dreamy.
Crave Online Rating (Film): 8/10
Crave Online Rating (Blu-Ray): 7.5/10