Looking back at Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland

Joel Schumacher followed up Flawless with an equally uncharacteristic disection of the Vietnam war, Tigerland…

‘Well, the fellas say that if you don’t wanna go to Nam, you better pray to Jesus or talk to Roland Bozz.” – Soldier

The Recap

After failing to light up the box office with the more indie feeling Flawless, Joel Schumacher’s next movie would hark back to the days of his work on Falling Down morethan anything he made during the latter part of the 90s, looking at the darker side of life and how it affects the people in it.

In 1971 it had become clear to the majority of the American public that the Vietnam War, for all intents and purposes, had been lost. This, however, did not stop the US government from enlisting more of its young men and training them to fight.

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Draftee Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell) is brought to train at Fort Polk and meets volunteer Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis). The two are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their views on the war, and their personalities could not be more different, with Bozz constantly showing disrespect to his superiors and Paxton keeping to himself and writing in his journal. Nevertheless, they soon strike up a friendship.

On reaching their first training camp, the soldiers are told once they finish there and the Tigerland training ground (which is the closest they have come to creating Vietnam) they will be sent to the front line, and no matter what their opinions on the war may be, it will not change the inevitable.

Bozz soon endears himself to the rest of the squad, becoming known as the man with x-ray vision as he finds various loopholes in the rules for soldiers to get out of the army without repercussions.

This leads to him becoming the squad leader, and earns him the hatred of another member of the team, Private Wilson (Shea Whigham), a racial bigot who eventually ends up fighting with Bozz and is stopped by Paxton who, in turn, is also hated by Wilson.

This culminates in Wilson pulling his gun on Bozz during a training exercise and trying to shoot him in the head. Luckily, the gun jams and Bozz declares he wants Wilson out of the army rather than the commanding officer taking care of him himself.

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As the platoon moves onto the Tigerland camp they begin their final training exercises and, much to Bozz’s horror, Wilson joins them, having not been kicked out for his attempt on Bozz’s life. Wilson lets Bozz know he will kill him no matter what it takes.

During their last training exercise, Wilson swaps his blank ammunition for live rounds, ready to exact the revenge he has been so hell bent on. Scared for the safety of his friend more than himself, Bozz injures Paxton with a blank round, making him less of a target for Wilson, and while not inflicting a lifelong injury, ensuring he will not have to go to war.

Wilson is eventually stopped and court-martialled, and Bozz and the rest of the platoon, minus Paxton, are sent away to war.

As they say their goodbyes, aspiring writer Paxton lets Bozz know he will write about him, but Bozz refuses. Having stolen Paxton’s journal, Bozz rips out pages as the bus drives away, ensuring he will never be committed to paper.

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Thoughts & Reaction

Tigerland is not the sort of film you would expect from Joel Schumacher. This is not because it is a bad movie – on the contrary, Tigerland is a very good movie, and I will move onto why that is in a moment –  but because it seems such a huge leap from anything he had done up to that point.

The Hollywood gloss and over-the-top set designs have been replaced with a more story-driven piece which, even thirty years on from the Vietnam War, manages to stir the feelings of hopelessness, regret and anger at what many now consider to be a pointless war. Even viewed now with the state of the world as it is, you cannot help but see parallels and feel an infinite sadness for the people put on the front line every day. 

It’s obvious, as always, that you’re watching a Schumacher film from the first shot, and although he has subtly toned down his typically vivid style, each scene looks beautiful, and the tones and colours used add to the air of authenticity this type of film requires.

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The style of the film takes me back to what I consider to be Schumacher’s most interesting and defining work, Falling Down, where a sense of reality is instilled though the way the movie is shot, and feels like it did happen rather than it being a screenplay shot in modern times.

This, of course, is helped by the fantastic script by Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther, whose simple storytelling is beautifully brought to life by a cast of relative unknowns at the time.

Although the story’s heart is about war and its implications, it really is the story of Bozz and Paxton, two people who are worlds apart, but form a friendship that cannot be broken.

This is brought to the screen with gusto by Colin Farrell and Matthew Davis, who both got their breaks in this movie, with Farrell eventually becoming one of Hollywood’s hottest leading men.

Although I was never really a fan of Farrell until I saw In Bruges, looking back at his performance here you can see all the signs of a very talented and versatile actor, and although some of his roles after Tigerland were iffy, to say the least, if he keeps himself on his current track he could become much more than just a pretty boy lead.

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A success with the critics, Tigerland gave Schumacher the hit he needed to get back on track again, which he unfortunately decided to promptly derail again with his next movie, Bad Company, which I will be looking at next week.

Tigerland Key Info:

Released: 15th June 2000 (US) / 18th May 2001 (UK)Distributed By: Regency EnterprisesBudget: UnknownBox Office Gross: $139,692Best DVD Edition: Tigerland DVD