Tigerland (2000)

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Ross Klavan, Michael McGruther
Cast: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr., Tom Guiry, Shea Whigham, Russell Richardson, Nick Searcy, Afemo Omilami, James MacDonald, Keith Ewell, Matt Gerald, Stephen Fulton, Michael Shannon, Cole Hauser
Seen on: 18.9.2021

Content Note: slurs abound, especially racist and misogynistic ones

It’s 1971 and a fresh batch of recruits has come together to be trained for the Vietnam war. Their reasons for being there differ greatly, but only a select few of them chose to join the military. Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis) is one of them, hoping the experience will give him fodder for a book. Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell), on the other hand, was drafted and uses every opportunity he can find to subvert the training. Bozz tries to keep his distance from everybody else, but Paxton is too intrigued by him to stay away. And he is not the only one paying close attention to everything Bozz does as the military machine tries its best to whittle him down to size.

Tigerland is an unusual war movie in that we never ever make it to the war. Instead the film is entirely focused on dismantling both the army itself and, a little less successfully, hero narratives. I was really impressed by it and especially Farrell in it.

The film poster showing Bozz (Colin Farrell) in military garb, behind him other soldiers in a splash of ink.

Usually, war movies will show you how soldiers in action suffer and are traumatized. Tigerland chooses a different path, showing instead how hard the army is at work to traumatize its soldiers first, so the war itself won’t have that much of an impact on them anymore. Or rather, so that they’re able to fight it in the first place. And how that’s somehow supposed to be heroic.

Enter Roland Bozz, a charismatic leader, an excellent shot, a good fighter – with absolutely no interest to serve in the army or become the hero he seems so perfectly suited for. He turns obviously and openly against the military visions of what a soldier, a man is supposed to be. It’s a career-making role and performance by the back then virtually unknown Farrell. The audience is as inexorably drawn to Bozz as Paxton. One can’t help but admire him.

Paxton (Matthew Davis) and Bozz (Colin Farrell) shirtless, their dog tags plainly visible.

The problem is that in its attempt to question the usual idea of what it is to be a hero, the film fell for its own hyped-up vision of heroism. In short, instead of criticizing the idea of heroes per se, the film just gives us a different kind of hero to root for in Bozz, despite the fact that Bozz himself hates the idea of heroism – but that’s only part of what the film idealizes, as it becomes clear in the end.

Still, the way to that let-down of an ending is very good indeed. Mostly because of, and I’m sorry that I’m repeating myself but it has to be said again, Farrell’s shining performance. It illuminates the film and brings even the flatter, more stereotypical characters to vibrant life. The film does have more to offer, but if for nothing else, it needs to be seen for this performance.

Bozz (Colin Farrell) arguing with a superior officer during a training exercise.

Summarizing: really good.

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