Being a soldier in war is brutal enough, but training to be one appears worse. The first half of Full Metal Jacket was all about this and Tigerland never leaves boot camp. It is a terrible advertisement for joining the army.

Joel Schumacher goes back to basics - no make-up, no stunt doubles, no lighting rigs, no Hollywood gloss. The actors are not stars and the script is by Ross Klavan, a first-time writer, based on his own experience. This is the real thing, or as close to it as possible.

What the army does with raw recruits is mould them into killing machines. Individuality, sensitivity, independence of mind is crushed by abusive sergeants. The cruelty levels are off the chart.

This is the story of Bozz (Colin Farrell), a Texan recruit, who bucks the system. His plan is to be so disruptive and spend so much time in the stockade that the army will eventually tire of it and fling him out. He avoids responsibility and tries not to make close friends. To care about anyone would weaken his position.

The platoon of young soldiers is being prepared for Vietnam and Tigerland is an area at Fort Polk, Louisiana, that has been made to resemble the conditions they will find out there. It is the final stage of their training.

Schumacher's contribution in costume design, scriptwriting and directing has been in the tradition of mainstream Hollywood (Batman & Robin, Dying Young), although there have been moments (Falling Down, A Time To Kill) when a grittier side emerges. Tigerland is far beyond this, a genuine piece of filmmaking that does not compromise for the sake of entertainment.

As a result, it is hard to watch. Perhaps this is the fault of an audience force-fed sentiment for so long. Bozz is portrayed, not as a team player, but as a maverick, more interested in his own agenda than the suffering of those around him. As the film progresses, this changes and, despite himself, he becomes as close to a heroic figure as a movie of this nature allows.

The actors are supposed to be teenagers, or veterans in their mid-twenties. Many look older, especially Shea Whigham, who plays Bozz's nemesis. The performances are strong and, because of the way the film is made, convincing.

Farrell is an Irishman, although you would never guess it from his accent. He remains true to the bloody-mindedness of Bozz, without a hint of grandstanding. Clifton Collins Jr and Thomas Guiry, first seen as the kid who loved baseball in The Sandlot in 1993, are especially memorable. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Pi, Requiem For A Dream) uses hand-held cameras and bleached colour to create a sense of reality as close to newsreel footage as possible.

This time, low-budget independence means exactly that. The film was shot in 28 days. The actors weren't even allowed trailers. And when they used live ammo, was it dangerous? Probably. That's the way it looks.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2001
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Training raw recruits at Fort Polk, Louisiana, 1971, to be killing machines for Vietnam.
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Director: Joel Schumacher

Writer: Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther

Starring: 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

Year: 2000

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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