Buffalo Soldiers

"Essential"

Buffalo Soldiers Review


Delayed from release for two years due to the world political climate, Buffalo Soldiers is a movie that is categorically worth the wait.

A dark comedy on par with Pulp Fiction, Aussie director Gregor Jordan (in his second film) transports us to Germany in 1989, on an American Army base during the waning days of the Cold War. These enlisted troops aren't your Officer and a Gentleman go-getters. They're criminals, offered the option to serve their country in lieu of staying in jail. But since there's no war on, getting in to trouble is the only thing to do. As our protagonist says, "There was nothing to kill but time."

Front and center is Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), a clerk whose shit-eating grin belies the fact that he is an expert at manipulating the system for personal gain. This entails everything from black marketeering Army-bought Mop & Glo to cooking up heroin after hours in the Army dispensary. Yet the genius of Buffalo Soldiers is that Ray isn't a demon: He's a genuinely fun guy that we can't help but root for: Even though his naïve boss, Colonel Berman (Ed Harris), can't see what's going on right under his nose, Elwood is cordial and helpful. He just skims off the top of Berman's ridiculous requests. The system is corrupt, obviously, so why shouldn't Ray get his?

The film zips along until Ray and his friends come into possession of about $3 million worth of weapons gone missing from their rightful owners. Ray decides he can sell them on the black market, though it will be his biggest deal ever by far. The only problem is a new Sergeant (Scott Glenn), who starts giving Ray the shakedown at every opportunity. In retaliation, Ray dates Sarge's daughter (Anna Paquin). Sarge in turn puts Ray's shiny new car at the opposite end of a target practice firing line. As we go along, Ray's story gets progressively more disturbing while taking it completely over the top, blending tragedy and comedy as well as I've ever seen. It's A Clockwork Orange meets Catch-22.

A mere plot synopsis simply can't express the wild comedy of Buffalo Soldiers, which had me in stitches throughout the film. Stoned soldiers crush a hapless VW beetle with a tank. People blow up in fireballs -- and we laugh. No subject is sacred, and this may be too much for some who think Jordan's lambasting of the American military is out of bounds. (There may be something to this: If you're going to make fun of the U.S. Army, you really ought to be one of us. The film is so vitriolic I honestly can't believe it got made, with real tanks, no less.)

No matter. Jordan's film is so dead-on and so utterly perfect that I wouldn't care if he was Martian. The man can tell a story that makes us laugh at life, think about political policy, and craft a number of unforgettable characters. Jordan crams all of this into 100 minutes, with a story as tight as a made bed, military-style. Jordan's script (based on Robert O'Connor's novel) is masterful and makes all the right moves. His direction is stylish but not overbearing: The repeated dream sequences in which Ray finds himself falling from the clouds to the earth (and hitting it) could have come off as cheesy, but they actually serve the story quite well. Harris is memorable in a role recalling his work in Glengarry Glen Ross, but it's Phoenix who steals the show as the anti-Top Gun, a soldier without a cause who proves that peacetime can be infinitely more dangerous than any war.

I guess Bob Marley said it best in this movie's namesake song: "Woe yo yo, woe-woe yo yo."

Jordan's commentary track is the highlight of the DVD extras. Also included is a behind-the-scenes documentary and one of those Sundance "Anatomy of a Scene" extras.

Home on the range.



Buffalo Soldiers

Facts and Figures

Run time: 98 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 31st October 2002

Box Office USA: $0.2M

Budget: $15M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Production compaines: Good Machine, Grosvenor Park Films LLP, Film4

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 31

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Ray Elwood, as Colonel Berman, as Sergeant Lee, as Robyn Lee, as Mrs. Berman, as Garcia, as Stoney (as Leon Robinson), as Pfc. Brian Knoll, as General Lancaster, Brian Delate as Colonel Marshall, Shiek Mahmud-Bey as Sergeant Saad (as Sheik Mahmud-Bey), Amani Gethers as Kirschfield, Noah Lee Margetts as Rothfuss (as Noah), as Squash

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.