Dir: Joel Schumacher. US. 2000. 95 mins.
Prod co: New Regency Productions. International sales: New Regency (310) 369 8300. US dist: 20th Century Fox. Exec prods: Ted Kurdyla, Bruce Berman. Prods: Arnon Milchan, Steven Haft, Beau Flynn. Scr: Ross Klavan, Michael McGruther. DoP: Matthew Libatique. Prod des: Andrew Laws. Ed: Mark Stevens. Mus: Nathan Larson. Main cast: Colin Farrell, Clifton Collins Jr, Matthew Davis, Tom Guiry, Shea Whigham.
It may be the same old story - young men bond at boot camp - but Tigerland makes the retelling worthwhile, thanks to a standout debut lead from Irish actor Colin Farrell. It may not have the names, and its Vietnam-era background may not have the appeal it had in the 1980s, but this film packs a compelling story into a nifty package that should more than recoup its modest budget.
The title refers to the final stage of basic training, a testing ground in the Louisiana wilderness designed to prepare soldiers for the jungles of Vietnam. The film opens with the release from military prison of one Roland Bozz (Farrell), a Texas draftee with the standard attitude problem of his generation: he has no quarrel with the Vietnamese. A laconic loner, he draws the interest of Paxton (Davis), a volunteer with literary ambitions, who acts as a sort of narrator. What sets Bozz apart is his sincerity toward the drill sergeants and his determination to help the similarly disinclined.
The characterisation of the military superiors is a refreshing change from the howling automatons who typically populate boot camp movies. Yes, they try to wipe the smirk off Bozz's face but, recognising in him an innate gift for leadership, they also try to reason with him and appeal to his ego. When he still refuses to play, they begin to fear him. Bozz's "triumph of the will" might have been less than credible were it not for Farrell's charisma: his nonchalance is as convincing as his Texas drawl.
Shot on 16mm and mostly handheld, the film marks a welcome departure from the trail of mechanical blockbusters that have marked Schumacher's career. Graying A-list directors will be queuing to follow his lead.