Fox // 2000 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 8th, 2011
The system wanted them to become soldiers. One soldier just wanted to be human.
In September of 1971, a group of Army recruits go through basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Among them is a draftee named Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth), who defies military authority and is in constant trouble. Bozz's fellow recruits believe he acts out because he's afraid of Tigerland, a deep-forest area where the last two weeks of intensive training replicate the dire conditions in Vietnam. Bozz eventually befriends Private Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis, Blue Crush), an aspiring writer who opposes the war but believes that if he dodges his duty some other poor soul will have to take his place. Soon, Bozz demonstrates a keen eye for working the military system in order to relieve other members of his company from their duty. With his help, a poorly educated young private with children and a handicapped wife is able to earn a hardship exemption. When his squad leader, Private Miter (Clifton Collins Jr., Sunshine Cleaning), buckles under the pressure of leadership, Bozz coaches him on how to earn a swift exit from his service.
As it becomes apparent that his resistance to authority isn't driven by fear but a deep-seated humanism and a refusal to surrender his own identity, Bozz earns the respect of his peers and eventually takes on the role of squad leader. But his new leadership role puts him in conflict with an unstable recruit named Wilson (Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire), who becomes a mortal threat when the company arrives at Tigerland, where the training sometimes involves the use of live ammunition. Bozz has a chance to escape Fort Polk and make for Mexico, but fears that he may endanger Paxton (who refuses to shirk his duty) if he leaves him behind at Wilson's mercy. Bozz realizes that the only solution is to grow fully into his role as squad leader and embrace his fate in a redemptive act to save Paxton.
Ross Klavan's screenplay for Tigerland sits in roughly the same genre as Joseph Heller's Catch-22 or Richard Hooker's MASH -- a biting anti-authoritarian/anti-war piece written by a former soldier. Private Roland Bozz descends (as does Hawkeye Pierce) directly from the anti-hero of Heller's book, Captain John Yossarian. He's a rebel with an innate grasp of the absurdity of war and the stubborn resolve to refuse to let go of his humanity and individuality regardless of how brutally the drill sergeants and company CO beat him down during basic training. Bozz even runs headlong into his own Catch-22 of sorts: He's told that if he continues to defy authority he'll be subjected to a court martial and sent to Leavenworth prison (which Bozz would probably prefer to a stint in Vietnam), but the company commander, Captain Saunders (Nick Searcy, Justified), refuses to court martial him because it would be an admission to the chain of command that he's unable to control a green recruit. Saunders, meanwhile, isn't a mustache-twirling villain, but a dedicated officer who recognizes Bozz's leadership potential. The movie's pedigree as a rich and complex anti-war story written by someone who'd actually been to war is further bolstered by Staff Sergeant Cota (Cole Hauser, Pitch Black) who comes on to train the company at Tigerland after completing his second tour of duty. Cota is so hard and pragmatic that Bozz respects his authority despite the man's veneer of military discipline. When Bozz informs Cota that one of the other privates claims not to be afraid of Vietnam, Cota wishes the private the best of luck and says he'd rather "stick with the smart and scared." That's the sort of no-bullshit leadership Bozz can get behind.
Tigerland was Colin Farrell's first starring role in a major motion picture. Despite his Irish brogue occasionally peeking out from behind Bozz's Texas drawl, he's amazingly dynamic and charismatic. The middling quality of the dialogue and the movie's use of rigid realism to critique the absurdity of war leave Bozz a far less memorable character than Yossarian or Hawkeye Pierce, but Farrell makes magic despite the role's limits. It's easy to take for granted the actor's subtle shifts in performance as Bozz evolves from a brash young punk to a principled anti-authoritarian to a reluctant leader to a man willing to sacrifice himself for his friends while still maintaining his unique humanity. It's a dynamic piece of acting that makes Tigerland a coherent and compelling story, instead of a rote anti-war tirade. It's also a reminder that Farrell isn't just a pretty boy backed by the hype machine. Given the right material, the dude can act.
I hate to have to say it, but Tigerland looks awful on Blu-ray. Schumacher and cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Black Swan) shot the movie on 16mm stock using old Bolex cameras in order to give it a gritty, period look. Whoever authored this Blu-ray had no respect whatsoever for that stylistic choice. The smaller film stock's natural grain has been washed out with heavy use of digital noise reduction, and then the image was re-sharpened using so much edge enhancement that the actors sometimes look oddly disconnected from backgrounds and ringed with intrusive haloes that are apparent even when you're not looking for them. Colors are drab and muted. Schumacher deliberately went for a desaturated look, but the image on the Blu-ray lacks solid blacks and true whites. The picture isn't desaturated so much as limp and lifeless. Oddly, many of the transfer's rampant flaws all but disappear once the characters reach the harshest part of their training at Tigerland. Grain becomes prevalent (as does digital noise at times, unfortunately), natural detail is more discernible, and color reproduction is livelier. The transfer is 1080p/AVC at the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Tigerland is a relatively quiet film, served well by the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio mix in 5.1 surround. The movie is dominated by dialogue, but the occasional discharge of a firearm comes across with plenty of textured pop.
The feature is accompanied by a decent slate of extras. Joel Schumacher delivers a warm and informative commentary track. It contains detailed information about the production, including casting, the shoot, and post-production. It's either a well-researched effort, or Schumacher has an incredible memory.
The Real Tigerland (21:44)
Screenwriter Ross Klavan and other Vietnam veterans discuss the severe training conditions at Ft. Polk, Louisiana.
Joel Schumacher: Journey to Tigerland (10:07)
In this retrospective interview, Schumacher talks about how he came across Ross Klavan's screenplay, cast Colin Farrell, and decided to shoot the movie with Bolex 16mm cameras.
Ross Klavan: Ode to Tigerland (10:55)
The screenwriter talks more about his experiences at Fort Polk and how it compelled him to write Tigerland.
This is a standard electronic press kit made just prior to the film's release. It includes interviews with Schumacher and Farrell.
Casting Session with Colin Farrell (6:29)
This is a collection of four screen tests of Farrell, shot on rough video tape. Each part can be played individually and there is also a Play All option.
In addition to the featurettes, there is a theatrical trailer for the film as well as two TV spots.
I'll always have a nostalgic soft spot for The Lost Boys, but Tigerland is far and away the Joel Schumacher film I most admire. Too bad this Blu-ray doesn't do it justice.
Tigerland is not guilty, but shame on Fox for the shoddy transfer.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Screen Tests
* TV Spots