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Tigerland is the story of a basic training unit heading for Vietnam. It is directed by Joel Schumacher and stars a cast that you probably have never seen before. The filmmakers go back to the basics on this one. It is filmed on a small scope, very low key and on a tight budget with no elaborate lighting or musical score. What results is one of the best films I have seen this year. The main reason? STORY! Tigerland is one of those small independent films that you walk into not knowing anything about and you walk out of the theater blown away. By releasing this film, Joel Schumacher should be officially pardoned for making the last two Batman movies (not that Tim Burton Batman movies were much better). I am convinced that Schumacher should never be given a decent budget to work with again.

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The story takes place at a Louisiana boot camp. The Year is 1971 and Vietnam is in full swing. Troublemaker Pvt. Bozz, fresh from the brig, has been transferred into an infantry unit that specializes in turning out foot soldiers for the war. Bozz has a problem with authority and a bigger problem with his country's involvement in the war itself. He is constantly challenging his superiors and is looking for a loophole to get kicked out of the Army. He befriends Pvt. Paxton. Unlike Bozz, Paxton enlisted in the War. He is looking forward to Vietnam. He's a writer and wants to make a journal of his time in the Army. Despite their differences, they become friends. One of the elements that I liked best about this film is the dynamic between the two. The friendship between Bozz and Paxton is the most moving I have seen since The Shawshank Redemption.

They are entered into a six-week training program with a seventh week at Tigerland, an Army base which is set up to have conditions as close to Vietnam as possible, and an eighth week in Vietnam. Bozz is constantly looking for ways to get into trouble, including standing up for other platoon mates against the sergeants. His knowledge of Army regulations allows him to become a lawyer of sorts, helping the men in the company stand up to the Army brass. He makes friends in the platoon this way. At the same time, he also makes enemies, for himself and for his friends. With the prospect of the war looming in the future and a semi war staring him and his friends in the face, Bozz has to decide if he will stay to protect his friends of leave to protect himself.

The film is a great look at the war from the foot soldier's point of view. To the writers' credit we get several different viewpoints from some great, well written characters. The officers who want the media and the public to stop screwing with their army. The sergeant who was there, and is trying to knock some sense into the kids heads before they go. Pvt. Paxton who anticipates the war will be a Hemingway like experience. Pvt. Miter who wants to use the war to elevate his manhood status in his fathers eyes. You have soldiers who see the war as the inevitable and have resigned themselves to the experience and others, like Pvt. Wilson, who are relishing the opportunity to get there. Dropped into the middle of all this is Bozz.

All of the actors in this film do a fantastic job. The standouts include Shea Wigham who plays Pvt. Wilson. He is slowly losing his sanity as the film progresses and each time he shows up you get a creepier feeling, you just know he's bad news. Pvt. Miter is played by Clifton Collins Jr. he is promoted to platoon leader but no one shows him any respect. He is caught up between Sergeants who berate him for not controlling his men and soldiers who listen to him less and less. Watching his character unravel is one of the best performances I have seen this year. The rest of the cast all put in top shelf performances, but the one who stands out above the others is Collin Farrell.

When you watch Farrell's portrayal of Bozz, you begin to realize that you are watching the next big thing. He commands the screen whenever he on it, and he does not resort to overacting to achieve this. That is not an easy accomplishment when you consider this film is loaded with great acting, but he does it. He conveys his character's disgust of the war convincingly. When he walks away from a lesson in torture because the thought of torturing another human being is too much for him, you feel for him. His pain in seeing another soldier suffer becomes yours. I got the same feeling watching Collin Farrell in this movie, that I got watching Russell Crowe in LA Confidential. I am already looking forward to his next role.

This is a fantastic movie. The camera work, the way it is filmed, and the decision not to have a "dramatic" musical score helps bring you into the story. It is a great film of friendship under tough circumstances and sacrifices people make. The characters are well developed and the look and feel of the film enhances the subject it covers. On a 1-10, Tigerland gets a 9.

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