Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Tigerland" - The Last Great Movie from Joel Schumacher

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie in question. So...SPOILERS.

Once again, there’s no theme to my next choice. Tigerland just happened to be right next to The Last Samurai on my shelf, and I wanted to watch it again. There is a common war theme, I suppose, but these are vastly different movies. Looking at it as a Vietnam movie, it is equally similar and different from other, classic Vietnam movies.

A Vietnam War movie without the war

I suppose the most interesting aspect of Tigerland in regards to the Vietnam War is that it’s a war movie that never actually shows the war. This isn’t completely unique as there are plenty of movies about a war’s effect on the soldiers that isn’t about the war itself. But those movies tend to take place after the war, not before it. Tigerland is just about the few weeks leading up to a platoon being shipped off to the war. In many ways, it is a ticking clock movie with the war being the bomb that will go off at the end.

Since Tigerland is all about the training, it would be easy to compare it to Full Metal Jacket’s first half. But that film’s first half wasn’t about the character’s all dreading going to war; it was more about the negative effect a strict drill sergeant can have on a recruit. Tigerland has plenty of drill sergeant stuff in it, but it’s more background noise than the focus of the film. The drill sergeants are nothing compared to what awaits them in Vietnam.

So Tigerland is about the regular grunts in Vietnam, which means it’s more like Platoon. But once again, it’s different because we never see Vietnam. In that way, this could be seen as a kind of spiritual prequel to Platoon. We see guys from all walks of life in this group, and we hear most of their stories. Hell, one of the main characters is even someone who volunteered, just like Charlie Sheen’s character in Platoon. They even have the same reason: thinking it would be unfair to skip out on the war when someone less fortunate would take their place.

I’m not making these comparisons to point out how derivative Tigerland is. For one thing, it’s impossible for a Vietnam movie to not be a little derivative since there are so many celebrated movies about that war. Instead, I’m pointing this out as a reason why Tigerland should be mentioned along with those films as one of the best about the Vietnam War.

What sets Tigerland apart the most for me is the main character of Roland Bozz, played by Colin Farrell in his first major American role. Aside from having an awesome name, Bozz is an interesting character since he seems to be a man out of time and place in the Army. His only goal is to get himself and others out of the war. At the time the film is set, he would be seen as a traitor and a coward by most people. But with the hindsight of the War and the general public opinion about it these days, he comes across more like a hero.

Bozz himself would hate being called that, just as he hates it when his newfound friend, Jim, takes the blame for him for one of his pranks. He likes to think he’s above heroics, friendship, etc. His character arc is realizing that he’s not, and he sacrifices himself by staying behind to keep Jim out of the War, in essence taking Jim’s place in Vietnam because he saw that Jim didn’t have what it takes to survive over there.

Bozz is what brings me back to this film every few years. I find him entertaining (and Farrell is great, even pulling off a believable Texan accent [of course this is coming from some dude in Indiana, so what do I know?]). More than that, though, I find him compelling. He acts like he doesn’t care about anyone when he actually cares about his fellow soldiers more than anyone else in the film. In a genre in which it’s usually hard to tell one soldier from the next, Bozz is a true character.

Schumacher is more than just the guy who ruined Batman

This film is most likely remembered as Colin Farrell’s first American film, but I think of it as Joel Schumacher’s comeback. (Farrell himself crashed and burned a few years after this film, but he’s now doing some of his best work.) Unfortunately, that comeback didn’t amount to much. He made another, more successful, movie with Farrell (Phone Booth), but after that everything he made was either terrible or just mediocre. (Thought I haven’t seen Blood Creek, which sounds interesting.) His last film was 2011’s Trespass, a completely forgettable Nic Cage and Nicole Kidman home invasion movie. He has nothing in production right now. But I think Schumacher is unfairly judged.

Most people remember Joel Schumacher as the guy who turned Tim Burton’s Batman franchise into a cartoonish travesty. (I agree that Batman & Robin is terrible, but I will defend Batman Forever...well, forever. It came out at just the right time in my childhood and nostalgia prohibits me from saying anything negative about that fun entry in the franchise.) But if you look at Schumacher’s filmography, you’ll see he’s had a very wide-ranging career. Hell, the guy made A Time to Kill in between his two Batman movies.

Schumacher also directed The Lost Boys, Falling Down, The Client, and 8MM. Some people might not consider some, or any, of these films classics, but I found them to be interesting. And I think The Lost Boys is a campy classic, and Falling Down is a great movie that seems forgotten now (it will very likely be a future film I discuss on this site). And just check out this past article to see my obsession with 8MM.

While Schumacher has made some good films, it’s hard to describe his style. In fact, he’s one of those directors who seems to have no style or common theme to his work. I used to think of this as a negative, but is it, really? There’s something to be said for these workhorse directors who can make any kind of film. And Schumacher really could make any kind of film. Just imagine a preview for one of his movies: “From the director of The Lost Boys, Batman & Robin, A Time to Kill, and The Phantom of the Opera…

Sometimes it’s refreshing to come across a director like Schumacher. I don’t know what each movie will look like. Will it be straightforward like most of his work? Will it be a neon nightmare like Batman & Robin? Will it be handheld and gritty like Tigerland? Who knows? It makes for an interesting watch at times. Now, I’ll never say, “I feel like watching a Schumacher movie” the way I will say, “I feel like watching a Kubrick movie.” (Who the fuck am I talking to in this stupid hypothetical, anyway?) But I will feel like watching Tigerland, Falling Down, 8MM, etc. again in the future. By the way, I didn't rewatch any of his other films in preparation of this article, so maybe there is an overarching style to his work, but I doubt it.

I may be building Schumacher up a bit too much with all this, but the man did make some very entertaining and rewatchable films. Movies like Tigerland prove he is more than just the guy who ruined Batman for a few years. And honestly, is that such a crime? There will probably be ten more versions of Batman in the next twenty years. At least Schumacher’s was so nuts they decided to take a little break. Perhaps he should be remembered for that.

Why do I own this?

As I stated above, I find Tigerland to be a unique and great Vietnam film, and the Vietnam genre is one of my favorites. So I’m proud to have this in my collection among the likes of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Born on the Fourth of July, etc.

Random Thoughts

This is one of the first indie movies I ever sought out. I had read about Farrell and wanted to know what the big deal was.

Bozz is such a good character because he's a likable smart ass. That's a tough character to write.

Shea Whigham’s Wilson, on the other hand, is a very easy character to hate.

Clifton Collins, Jr. you will always be Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez to me.

Some pretty good drill sergeant talk. Since Full Metal Jacket, it's hard for those characters to not sound like an imitation of R. Lee Ermey.

“Maybe, just maybe, you will return one day to play stink finger with little Sally back home.”

Matthew Davis does a good job playing an “aw, shucks” soldier.

For some reason the bar scene in New Orleans always looked ridiculously cheap. I know the movie is low budget, but moments like that make it look a little amateurish. For all I know, that was a real bar, but it sure didn't look cinematic…

“Miter, what are you, twenty years old? Shit. Just cause you wear those sergeant stripes don't mean you ain't gonna die.”

“Just want you to know, I've taken a great disliking to you.”

I guess peeling potatoes in the Army is a real thing. I thought maybe it was just something out of Beetle Bailey or something.

“When did ‘my country right or wrong’ turn into ‘fuck this shit’?”

Perfect role for Michael Shannon: the trainer who gives you the bonus tip of how to shock a prisoner's balls with a field radio.

Michael Shannon's delivery of “worthless sack of shit!” is so fucking angry.

I like the overall style. It's grainy, fluorescent-lit, hand held, etc. It feels documentarian and chaotic. This is why I look at this film as evidence that Schumacher is a skilled director. It just doesn’t seem like he cares much with a lot of his other films.