Tigerland (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary, screen tests, featurette.

MUCH maligned Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher has decided to turn his back on blockbusters for the moment and opt for a more thoughtful, if not independent, style of film-making. In the case of Tigerland, his latest, the decision pays huge dividends.

Shot in a documentary style in just 28 days using The Dogma philosophy - which rejects Hollywood artifice and abandons the use of elaborate lighting, special effects and music - Schumacher has crafted a quite brilliant tale of Vietnam recruits as they enter their final stage of infantry training.

Set in 1971, as America stood divided over the escalating conflict, and with thousands of young Americans already slain, Tigerland follows the fortunes of A-C Company and of two men in particular; Matt Davis's Private Jim Paxton, a posterboy recruit who foolishly believes in the romantic notion that the war will inform his writing, and Colin Farrell's Roland Bozz, an insubordinate rebel who wants out of the army and who stages small acts of protest that eventually trigger far greater consequences.

According to screenwriter Ross Klavan, Tigerland is very much based on reality - "on the things I saw in training'' - and draws from many of his experiences with the Army Reserves (Stateside) and during his Advanced Military Training at Tigerland itself.

And from the style of filming, and the gritty realism portrayed on screen, it is easy to forget you are watching a movie at times, such is its authenticity. Tigerland does not flinch in its depiction of war, or from showing the anxiety and sheer anguish of the young men being forced to fight it, sometimes against their own will.

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket may have trod a similar path during its no-less impressive first half, but Schumacher's Tigerland can stand proudly alongside it and - in several of its performances - boasts several stars to look out for.

Farrell, in particular, is outstanding as the rebel with a cause Bozz, combining elements of Russell Crowe-like toughness from Gladiator with a tender side that forces him to look out for his colleagues even when they begin to turn on him. His performance already rates among my personal favourites of the year so far and, as one commentator states during the movie, you are unlikely to forget Bozz in a hurry.

Davis is also good value as the blue eyed recruit, desperate to serve his country, as is Clifton Collins Jr (last scene as the tortured hitman in Traffic), whose attempts to become a strong leader frequently place him at odds with his superiors and with Bozz. Cole Hauser's appearance as tough-talking Sergeant Cota also builds on the good work he did in last year's Pitch Black.

Credit must also go to Schumacher for turning in such an accomplished and utterly compelling piece of cinema which serves as a timely reminder of his ability behind the camera (he also directed Falling Down).

And don't be put off by the feeling you may have seen this before - Tigerland is a different take on a frequently-used theme that seldom resorts to the obvious or the familiar. In short, it is a minor masterpiece.