Saturday, 11 June 2011
Starring: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr., Shea Wingham, Tom Guiry
By Alan Bacchus
How good is Colin Farrell in this movie? Great. Sadly, he would never again even come close to the cinematic charisma and complexities he puts into the role of Pvt. Roland Bozz, the enigmatic shit-disturbing soldier who affects the lives of the scared witless grunts he trains with during the lead-up to their tour in the Vietnam War. His memorable performance seems to inspire every other creative element in the film, from his supporting actors, Joel Schumacher's direction, which has never been better, and the awesome cinematography of Matthew Libatique.
Jim Paxton (Davis) is a humble middle-class WASP private training in the continental US before being shipped out to Vietnam. It’s Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk to be exact, nicknamed Tigerland for its ability to create the military’s ruthless fighting machines. Through Paxton’s written diaries and voiceover we get to see the horrific life of a soldier through his innocent and naive eyes. Another newbie is the less identifiable presence of Pvt. Bozz (Farrell), a wildcard crackerjack who marches to his own beat and at all times exudes superiority to the hyperbole of military training.
While his self-imposed right of personal freedom and expression is admired and looked up to by Davis and some others, Bozz is also a frustrating stick in the mud for his officers and fellow soldiers. The main source of conflict comes from a near psychotic bully, Pvt. Wilson (Wingham), who resents Bozz’s libertarian ways. As others, like the cowardly Corporal Miter (Collins Jr.), crack under the strain, Bozz becomes an angel of comfort for those who will likely not survive the stress of battle.
Joel Schumacher has never been better. Ever. He’s made 22 feature films, many of them extremely successful, yet he’s never made a great movie except for Tigerland. Like his discoveries in previous pictures St. Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys, his casting is sharp. Not only Farrell, but look at the performance of Clifton Collins Jr., who matches Farrell’s veracity with a less show-offy role, but one he burns into our memories. Same with Shea Wingham, who like Collins is certainly not a star, but an equally respected character actor today. His performance as Wilson, the antagonist to Bozz, is frightening.
If not Colin Farrell, then Matthew Libatique’s muddy and grainy 16 mm photography is at the helm of this ship. This was a time before acceptable quality high-definition, before the Red Camera and before the extensive colour timing capabilities in post that we have now. Libatique employed good old fashioned 16 mm to create an earthy and grainy newsreel feeling. The format also allows for a distinct type of colour saturation not present in regular 35 mm.
Though this aesthetic was likely influenced by the Danish Dogme films that were hot at the time, Libatique and Schumacher create their own rules. Despite the gritty feeling, they don’t always handhold the camera. Many of the shots are on tripod and dollies for a traditional steady and smooth look, which demonstrates that realism needn’t be exclusively achieved using a handheld or ‘shaky’ camera.
In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles famously shared his title credit on the same card as his cinematographer Gregg Toland to honour his immense contribution of the visual design to the picture. If any film deserves a similar co-authorship, it’s Tigerland.
Tigerland is available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment.