"TIGERLAND is very much based on reality -- on the things I saw in training," screenwriter Ross Klavan explains. Klavan, who enlisted in the Army Reserves (stateside) and did his Advanced Infantry Training (A.I.T.) at Tigerland in 1971, translated his experience into a screenplay.
A reservist, Klavan watched the military machine "shovel guys off to war. "
"If you went to A. I. T. at Tigerland and you were drafted, you were going to Vietnam," he maintains. And, after six years of American involvement in Southeast Asia, few of the men held any illusions about their prospects. According to Klavan, "there was a lot of fatalism about (the war). There wasn't a lot of patriotism. Guys went because they had no other choice. "
Central to TIGERLAND, however, is a character who refuses to accept this fate. "I based (Roland) Bozz on one particular guy," says Klavan. Someone who tried to "find his way out of the machine. " While Klavan incorporated elements of many people into Bozz, the man he met at Fort Polk left a lasting impression. "He was a genuinely rebellious person, who was faced with the overwhelming authority of the military. And a man whose disobedience exacted a brutal toll. They basically ground this guy into the dirt. But his spirit never waned. Even if they were going to execute him," Klavan imagines, "he'd make jokes all along the way - just to make himself feel alive. "
Similarly, the character Bozz finds himself in an Army that beats him up physically, emotionally and spiritually, exerting the harshest possible discipline outside of prison. Whatever his personal aims, Bozz begins to embody the terrible moral burden shouldered by the young men who faced death prematurely in support of an ethically questionable war.
The strength of TIGERLAND's central character, combined with the script's gritty realism appealed to director Joel Schumacher. "I felt a strong affinity to Bozz whose rebelliousness makes him a relatively sane person in an insane situation," says Schumacher. And the uniqueness of this situation was a draw in itself. "There have been a lot of movies set during Vietnam, but I thought TIGERLAND was quite different," Schumacher observes. "It is a small, very personal and internalized story that takes place before the men leave for the war. "
TIGERLAND came to Schumacher as he was making an effort to move away from big-budget "event" films. "I really wanted to withdraw from the summer blockbuster market for a while," he points out. "It had been very good to me, but I was at a point where I felt the box office had become more important than the movie. "
Schumacher had already begun moving to smaller, more personal films with 8mm (1999) and Flawless (1999). But TIGERLAND, shot in twenty-eight days on a military base in Starke, Florida, was a complete reversal - a film conceived in the spirit of Danish director Lars von Trier's Dogma 95 movement. The Dogma philosophy, which Schumacher encountered during a visit to Scandinavia to promote 8mm (1999) rejects Hollywood artifice, abandoning the use of elaborate lighting, special effects and music. Partnered with cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Pi (1998), and Requiem for a Dream (2000), Schumacher established a "documentary" look for TIGERLAND in keeping with the "grunt's point of view" of the script. Inspired in part by Frederick Wiseman's titicut Follies (1967) the filmmakers chose to shoot in sixteen millimeter and largely abandoned tripod and dolly in favor of hand-held camera work.
The cast also made sacrifices. Schumacher and longtime collaborator, casting director Mali Finn, assembled a group of relative "unknowns," who not only endured but thrived on the difficult conditions set by this form of filmmaking. The principals wore no makeup (with the exception of some blood and bruises), performed their own stunts, dispensed with trailers and director's chairs, and, prior to filming, submitted to two weeks of infantry training at Camp Blanding. Stripped of luxuries, the actors, most of whom had little film experience, focused on performance. According to Shea Whigham who plays Bozz's nemesis, Wilson, "the film feels like a theater piece. "
Schumacher gave Colin Farrell the role of Bozz. Farrell, an irreverent Irishman, admits a kinship with the character. He left the Gaiety School of Drama in Dublin before completing its two-year program because, as he recounted to Schumacher, "I didn't think I should have to pay two and a half thousand pounds and take a year out of my life to be told that I was crap. "
After a few phone sessions with voice coach Tim Monich, Farrell traveled through Texas to learn Bozz's accent. "I'll fool the Irish," he quips. "I don't know how many Americans I'll fool, but I'll fool my own people. "
TIGERLAND, however, is not just about Roland Bozz. As Farrell points out, "it's the story of a group of young men who are at a stage in their life when they should be finding out who they are, but they're not allowed to because of what their government says they must do. " And the film's central character is only as strong as the rest of the ensemble.
Matt Davis plays the part of Jim Paxton, the film's narrator and a more naive complement to Bozz's cynicism. "Paxton needs to see things that no one else has seen," Davis remarks. Unlike Bozz, Paxton enlisted. "I want to go," he declares. "I want the experience. I'm taking notes on everything and maybe one day I'll write something. " Their divergent views unite Paxton and Bozz in an odd alliance that leads both men to unexpected conclusions.
The character Wilson, by contrast, embraces the war without introspection. "The army sometimes brings out strange things in people," Ross Klavan suggests. "At Tigerland, I met a lot of guys like Wilson who arrive at training and all of a sudden want to be killers. He is a patriot undone by his own zeal. Wilson wants to serve his country, to be a good soldier," Shea Whigham, who plays the part, says. But he demonstrates the danger of extremes, even extreme nationalism. Wilson, in his own way, falls victim to the larger machinery of the Army.
Miter (Clifton Collins Jr.), Cantwell (Thomas Guiry), Johnson (Russell Richardson) and the other members of A Company, Second Platoon each give testimony to the dehumanizing process of military training. As Guiry puts it, the film tells a story of friendship during "a period of innocence in these men's lives."
It was this "internalized story" that drew Schumacher's attention. "For me, TIGERLAND works on both political and human levels," he explains. "In this story, war is the villain, and the men drafted to fight this war were considered disposable. Ultimately it is about friendship, loyalty, compassion and bravery among these men. "