Friday, November 18, 2005

Tigerland (1999)

Every once in awhile there comes a film that's simple and understated which manages to not only entertain you but also make you think. Such is the case with Tigerland. Before he was one of Hollywood's favorite "bad boys" and one of Jay Leno's most regularly expletive-laced and bleeped out guests, Colin Farrell got his start in this uncharacteristically low-key Joel Schumacher (ruiner of the early 90s Batman franchise) film.

The film is narrated by Private Jim Paxton (Matt Davis) who enlisted so he could write about the War first hand. A young idealist, the war for him holds the mystique and mystery of all the old John Wayne movies he grew up watching in his youth. The film starts as Paxton meets Private Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell). Bozz is the realistic counterpoint to Paxton's idealistic tendencies. Unlike Paxton, Bozz was drafted and has no interest in going to Vietnam.

Much to the chagrin of Bozz's superiors, he shows tremendous leadership skills and abilities that instead of using to lead the other privates in his group, he opts to use that cunning to help a few of the privates get discharged-- saving them from going overseas to serve in the war.

Despite their distinct differences Paxton and Bozz form a very close friendship and tight bond. And when given the opportunity to desert and flee to Mexico or stay and be shipped off to Vietnam Bozz is forced to choose-- if he defects it only means someone else will end up serving in his place-- a bullet that might be meant for him might instead take the life of another-- that someone could be his friend Paxton.

With as many movies as there are about Vietnam and despite the fact that this whole movie is set in the US before the soldiers even get sent over, this is easily the best Vietnam film I've seen since Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Setting the film at Tigerland, the infamous final stop for training of US soldiers, before shipping off to Vietnam, sets it apart from many other films which tackled this subject matter, giving a tired genre a fresh voice and perspective.

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