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.