From restless collagist Spike Lee we might have expected an interest in the antic regulations of the Dogma filmmaking manifesto. But Joel Schumacher? The former window dresser with a taste for visual opulence? The voluptuary director who never met a handsome, smooth-chested actor who couldn’t benefit from velvety backlighting?

Yet here’s Schumacher, zipping around on the cheap, embracing the documentary-style aesthetic of handheld camera work in Tigerland. Here’s Schumacher, knee-deep in a Vietnam-era ensemble drama starring a bunch of underknowns. And here’s his best, most vigorous, least tarted-up work in years — an affecting, old-fashioned, antiwar war story about a bunch of recruits whose lives are each profoundly touched by their brushes with a free-spirited Cool Hand Luke of a Texan named Bozz (Colin Farrell).

Bozz is one of those naturally dignified American fellas who refuses to surrender his God-given personal autonomy to just any old SOB superior. In boot camp, and later in Tigerland (the punishing training facility in Louisiana built to simulate Vietnam’s jungle conditions), he’s punished a lot as a result; his nonviolent defiance drives the more sadistic bullies stark mad with rage. But he keeps bouncing back — helping his buddies, and sometimes literally saving their hides. Schumacher establishes a believable sense of that practical camaraderie, that daily rhythm of boredom, resignation, restlessness, and physical exertion among men in close quarters — albeit men with notably well-sculpted bare buttocks. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Schumacher’s pleasure in experimenting with low-tech narrative agility — of being freed, literally, from the weight of Batman sets and high-concept hooey like Flawless — is palpable. But so, too, is his sense of excitement in having found Colin Farrell, who is as exciting and pleasingly rough-hewn a leading man as Hollywood’s most famous, right there on the playing field with George Clooney and Russell Crowe. No doubt there’ll be plenty of variations on this hyperbole once word of mouth kicks in; the challenge for the stage actor from Castleknock, Ireland, will be to avoid Matthew McConaughey Syndrome. (Suggestion: Pass on that Vanity Fair cover.) But right now, in Tigerland, the scruffy, sullen, unpredictable, and magnetic Farrell is to male stardom what Dogma is to Joel Schumacher — a blast of fresh air in the Hollywood jungle, an inspiration. B+

  • Movie
  • 100 minutes