Conscientous Objectors

A relatively untried group of actors make this a gritty, zero-glamour flick.

Just when you begin to think the wagon of Vietnam-grounded movies is grinding to a slow halt, you’re hit squarely in the face with another one. However, while other movies depict the gory and glory of war and its effects, this centres on the psychology of troopers before they're led to battle.

Ideated from real-life army training procedures at a base called Tigerland in the U.S. around 1971, screenwriters Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther have devised a story that tells the truth pretty much the way it is.

Christened "the second worst place in the world", Tigerland is designed to give the soldiers a heady taste of what the real thing is - the battleground of Vietnam. Initiated to several weeks of rigorous training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, ordinary American men, some out of choice, others out of coercion, are toughened for the hell that lies ahead.

A miscellaneous mix, the Second Platoon comprises men, the likes of Jim Paxton (Matt Davis), a willing recruit who attempts to record his experiences and someday write a book; Miter (Clifton Collins Jr.), a butcher boy trying to prove his worth; and Wilson (Shea Wingham), a fanatical patriot with a streak of risky extremism.

The man who steals centre-stage is Roland Bozz (Colin Farrel) who not only stands up to the establishment, but encourages the others to follow suit. Announcing his aversion to the army, and making vocal his desire to quit, he gathers himself a fan following while getting on the wrong side of his seniors. Brazenly outspoken, his acquaintance with military law enables two war-shy privates to leave the army, getting him in the line of fire of the sergeant.

While tutoring on basic army drill, this film manages to deliver a stark, if sometimes inflated, view of the goings-on behind the barrack. Exposing mental dilemmas and raw sentiment of young men, it goes to show how they are forced to fight a war most of them don’t believe in, and for reasons further from patriotic.

Joel Schumacher has adopted a novel modus operandi for "Tigerland". Straying from conventional cinematography, he has used a rough, documentary-styled approach, with camera in hand, lending the film's visuals an on-the-spot appearance.

A relatively untried group of actors put to the drill makes this a zero-glamour flick, but for the war buffs and those who can’t get enough, this should be right up your alley.

This article was first published on 16 Aug 2001.