Tigerland (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner23/05/2001

4 stars out of 5

Running time: 101 mins

Well-made, impressive drama featuring a white hot star-making performance by Irish actor Colin Farrell.

It’s hard to believe that Tigerland is by the same director responsible for such cinematic atrocities as Batman and Robin and 8mm. However, stripped of an overblown budget and using both a handheld 16mm camera and a cast of raw unknowns, director Joel Schumacher has come up with his best film since 1992’s Falling Down.

The film is set in 1971 and focuses on a group of recruits (some drafted, some volunteers) undergoing the final stages of training before being sent to Vietnam, including a spell in ‘the second worst place on earth’ – Tigerland, a kind of Vietnam-recreation park deep in Louisiana.

The central character is Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell), a rebel by nature whose refusal to play the game infuriates the army brass, not least because they can see that he actually has great leadership qualities. His closest friend and the erstwhile narrator of the film is Private Jim Paxton – the sensitive would-be writer who befriends Bozz early on in the film.

There are elements of Cool Hand Luke in the film – Bozz doesn’t want to be in the army and desperately wants to escape to a better life. However, he gradually accepts his fate and instead resorts to getting his friends out of the army by utilising legal loopholes.

The stock characters familiar from countless other boot-camp films are all present and correct here too (the sadistic sergeant, the innocent-but-dumb character, the bigoted psychopath, the ‘spot the imminent nervous breakdown’ character and so on) – however, the performances are so good that –at least in most cases- they transcend their stereotypes and are fleshed out sufficiently enough so that you actually care about them.

The film also has a raw feel to it that’s not dissimilar from the Dogma films, courtesy of superb camerawork by Matthew Libatique (who also shot Aronofsky’s Pi and Requiem For A Dream).

What really lifts the film into a class of its own though is ex-Ballykissangel star Farrell’s performance, which has already attracted a huge buzz stateside and is doing the same here – he’s officially The Next Big Thing, as far as Hollywood is concerned, and a film pairing him with Penelope Cruz is surely not too far off.

For once, then, the hype is justified – Farrell’s performance just screams star quality and has already drawn comparisons with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Admittedly, his Texan accent occasionally lapses back into Irish, but you won’t care – he has a hypnotic screen presence. (Schumacher clearly agrees – he’s already cast Farrell in his next project ‘The Phone Booth’ and Spielberg has reportedly lined him up to play Tom Cruise’s brother in Minority Report).

The film isn’t without flaws, obviously. The pleasure of the initial scene where Bozz gets a friend sent home on compassionate grounds are diminished every time the scene is repeated – the point has been made, you feel, without him doing the same for everyone. Also, there’s an extremely unlikely plot development where a character that would definitely have been court-martialled for earlier behaviour re-appears for a final climactic scene. To be fair though, these flaws don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the film itself.

In short then, this is well-worth seeing, especially for Farrell’s star-making performance. Here’s hoping Schumacher learns his lessons well. Recommended.

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