Political Film Society - Tigerland

PFS Film Review


TigerlandAmerican combat troops in Vietnam were not particularly revered, and there have been few war heroes aside from those who suffered as prisoners of war in the Hanoi Hilton. Although some have attributed the American defeat to various factors, it was not until the release of Tigerland, directed by Joel Schumacher, that the American public could catch a glimpse of the deeply flawed military training before assignment to Vietnam. Ross Klavan, one of the screenwriters, based the film on his experiences. The movie takes place in September 1971 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where infantry soldiers were given eight weeks of basic training and then one week of combat training. The portion of the base for realistic jungle combat training, with conditions approximating those in Vietnam, was called Tigerland. We become acquainted with several young recruits and why they were in the infantry. Although most were drafted to fight for the lost cause, Jim Paxton (played by Matthew Davis) decided after two years of college that experience in Vietnam would be invaluable for his chosen career as a writer. Paxton provides the voiceovers at the beginning and end of the film, but most of the story centers on Roland Bozz (played by Colin Farrell), who questioned all the inhumane elements of the training and helped several misfits to get discharged from the army. According to the film’s tagline, "The system wanted them to become soldiers; one soldier just wanted to be human." We see that most of the training involved verbal humiliation, with no praise even for successful marksmanship; although the purpose might have been to uproot individualistic thinking, presumably to show the need for teamwork, the actual effect was to demoralize and thus sap the trainees of the will to fight courageously or gloriously. We observe how young men were instructed to use radio cables as instruments of torture, presumably to extract information from future captured Vietcong, and one hapless recruit assigned to maintain discipline among his fellow trainees becomes the guinea pig when Bozz walks away in disgust. Since the buddy system was not employed, recruits channeled their anger due to the verbal humiliation at one another, so many fights break out, and future psychopathic killers emerge. One such lunatic is Wilson (played by Shea Whigham). The climax of the film comes during a maneuver in Tigerland, where Bozz and Paxton are hunted by Wilson, who breaks regulations by using real bullets and injures Paxton. The point of the film appears to be that American soldiers were ill prepared to fight in a war that they knew was unpopular because the training was utterly barbaric and chaotic. Superior officers, knowing that no victory was possible, were instead trying to train them to survive. Nearly a docudrama of actual conditions of military training for Vietnam, the Political Film Society has nominated Tigerland for an award as best film exposé of the year 2000. MH

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