While the bar is set pretty low, Tigerland manages to be one of director Joel Schumacher’s most satisfying films. It’s telling though that even at its most ostensibly gritty and nonconventional, the film can’t completely hide its blunt storytelling and ridiculous characterizations — call it the patented Schumacher sheen.
In a star-making role, Colin Farrell stars as Pvt. Roland Bozz, a draftee at an infantry training camp in Louisiana during the Vietnam War. Bozz is doing his best to be an iconoclast, clashing with his superiors at every turn and making his disdain for the war abundantly clear. Farrell displays the ragged charm that we’ve seen in plenty of roles now, but the character itself is barely more than an anti-war cipher — a convenient construction who shows no signs of wear and tear despite the hell he’s put through because of his behavior.
When he’s not helping other privates find ways to be discharged or going AWOL, Bozz forms a tentative friendship with Pvt. Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis), an enlistee who joined up because he felt he should know the experience of war. Together, the men endure training, leading up to the ultimate test — a week in Tigerland, a sleep-deprived simulation of the actual Vietnam.
The loose, fairly natural performances of the young cast (including Clifton Collins Jr. and Michael Shannon) combined with Matthew Libatique’s handheld 16mm photography give the proceedings an outwardly verité-like feel. But the narrative beats come replete with cheesy pontifications and emotional outbursts more suited to, well, a Joel Schumacher film. Things get especially egregious in the final minutes when a group of black soldiers break out into spontaneous four-part harmony for a nice backing track and an ending that could be ambiguous gets obliterated with an optimistic voiceover from a character who hasn’t narrated anything prior.
There’s less than meets the eye in Tigerland, which can occasionally look the part, but fails to pass inspection on grounds of its inherent shallowness.
The Blu-ray Disc
Tigerland is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visually, this is a mixed bag, with the 16mm photography featuring a prominent, but intact and detail-rich grain structure at points, but often disintegrating into a mush of ill-defined shapes. Colors often are muddy and bleed into one another. Much of this may have to do with the source material, where shots are often subjected to an obnoxious filter that blows out the whites and eliminates almost all traces of detail, but there does appear to be some edge enhancement going on in the transfer that adds to the overall inconsistency of the image.
Audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD track that flexes its muscles from time to time. Post-production music and effects are more dynamic than voices and natural sound, which can be a bit hollow, but there are no major problems overall.
Surprisingly for a catalog title of this kind, Fox has sprung for several new featurettes, presented in HD. Schumacher talks about the project and his immense pride for it, writer Ross Klavan talks about his script, which is his only produced screenplay, and a 20-minute piece explores the real Tigerland. Carried over from the DVD release are a commentary from Schumacher, a brief making-of, Farrell’s casting session, the theatrical trailer and some TV spots.
The Bottom Line
The added extras and the modest bump in image quality make this a good choice for fans, but even at the top of his game, Schumacher remains a filmmaker whose work I’d rather avoid.