Trained to kill? Paxton and Bozz (Davis and Farrell) get through basic training their own way...

dir Joel Schumacher
scr Ross Klavan, Michael McGruther
with Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr, Thomas Guiry, Shea Whigham, Russell Richardson, Cole Hauser, James McDonald, Nick Searcy, Arian Ash, Haven Gaston, Afemo Omilami
release US 6.Oct.00; UK 18.May.01
Fox 00/US 1h41 3 out of 5 stars
Abandoning his normal Hollywood slickness, Schumacher gives this tight little ensemble drama a terrific gritty edge. Performances are introspective and the film captures the feel of military training in an unusually effective way. But Schumacher hasn't really changed his ways; despite all the good stuff, this film is just as derivative and condescending as anything else he's done.

It's 1971 and we're at the Army Infantry Training centre in Louisiana, aka Tigerland, the last stop before young soldiers are shipped off to Vietnam. And at this stage in the war, no one has any delusions of patriotism. Bozz (Farrell) is one private who isn't going to let the military system break him, staging his own personal rebellion through escape attempts, gross insubordination and helping everyone else get out of their service. He befriends fellow trainee Paxton (Davis) who enlisted so he could gather experiences to write a book (and it's through his eyes that we see most of the film's story), and together Bozz and Paxton get up to all sorts of trouble and face up against the group bully (Whigham).

The low-key story is nicely offset by naturalistic performances and terrific camera work by Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream). It's fascinating to look at and full of churning energy and raw emotion, with an ensemble that actually works together to tell a story. Farrell is a mesmerising screen presence, grabbing our attention from the first scene and carrying us through the murky plot's twists and turns, even when it gets obvious and rather unsubtle. Schumacher doesn't trust the audience with even a smidgen of ambiguity, so the story must have a clear-cut villain in it, as well as a definitive finale (which only seems ambiguous). More strangely--and maddeningly--the script lifts its main climax straight from Hair. Even so, this isn't a bad film. But it's certainly a disappointment for those of us who want something fresh and original.

[18--adult themes and situations, violence, nudity, language] 30.Jan.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall