A lot of time, money, and pain have gone into establishing Joel Schumacher’s reputation as a well-oiled toxic-waste machine (deathless Batman and Grisham franchises, vigilante apologias, St. Elmo’s Fire)—and all for what? Schumacher would now like you to believe that he is sorry, though not sorry enough to desist. This contrite phase apparently began with last year’s low-key but clueless drag-queen/homophobe buddy movie, Flawless, and continues with the ostentatiously scruffy Tigerland, a contrived (if surprisingly well acted) martyr story set in a pre-Nam Louisiana boot camp. The modest budget and unknown cast are supposed to signal integrity, though glossy production values and name actors are not traditionally the problem with Joel Schumacher movies.
The director, who’s presumably realized that small films are less easy to hate, keeps it real Dogme style, shooting in murky 16mm, with mostly natural light and a good deal of handheld tumult. (The cinematographer is Matthew Libatique, best known for his flashy work with Darren Aronofsky.) But while Tigerland is the least egregious of Schumacher’s recent films, it’s also fatally convinced that grime equals authenticity. The movie monitors the implosion of a Vietnam-bound platoon as its members progress from brutal drills to the merciless tropical-swamp simulation known as Tigerland, “the second worst place on earth.”
With its numerous instances of institutionalized sadism (some lingered on a little too fetishistically for comfort), Tigerland unavoidably evokes the first hour of Full Metal Jacket—and, of course, its verité precursor, Frederick Wiseman’s Basic Training—but the screenwriters are ultimately more indebted to the Biloxi Blues model of bonding and lesson-learning under pressure. Cocky, charismatic troublemaker Bozz (Colin Farrell) and idealistic aspiring writer Paxton (Matt Davis) form the core of the group, almost all of whom eventually benefit from Bozz’s anarchic leadership; there’s a sociopathic hair-trigger thrown in to liven things up. In his first major role, the Irish actor Farrell deflects the script’s more dubious aspects through sheer magnetic presence. Tigerland is, if not much else, a casting director’s triumph—a point reinforced in the current Interview, where the film is successfully reimagined as a homoerotic fashion spread.