Buffalo Soldiers Movie Review

A dark comedy about "soldiers with nothing to kill except time" -- convicted felons, junkies and high school dropouts serving in West Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall -- "Buffalo Soldiers" has designs on being a incisive satire somewhere between "M*A*S*H," "Catch-22" and "Dr. Strangelove."

But in its cheeky skewering of the U.S. military (which saw the movie much delayed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent hawkish patriotism) its provocative ambitions are dragged down by characters as cartoonish as those in lowbrow in-the-army-now laffers like "Stripes" or "Private Benjamin."

Our anti-hero is a battalion clerk named Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) who is serving his country to avoid serving time. Being of a criminal mind, he's found his access to base goods and equipment a lucrative source of extra income on the East-West black market and he's got his fingers in everything from Mop 'n' Glo to guns and drugs to the base commander's bitter, frustrated wife (Elizabeth McGovern).

But unlike Elwood -- who is wily and well developed as a low-class, low-profile schemer who has fallen into a high-risk, high-profit calling -- the rest of the cast lack polished personalities to work with. Director Gregor Jordan surrounds this con man with two-dimensional personalities that present him little challenge.

Ed Harris is the base's incompetent commander who trusts Elwood blindly while preoccupied with making a superficial impression on visiting brass in the hopes of winning an undeserved promotion. Elwood's new bunkmate (Gabriel Mann) is a bully-magnet cliché of a nervous nerd private who resists getting mixed up in the illegal activity, then has an unexplained (at least until a last-reel twist) change of heart. And the base's new "Top Sergeant" (Scott Glenn), who becomes instinctively savvy to Elwood's dirty dealings, is a hard-nosed, one-tracked personality determined to catch our guy red-handed and make his life hell in the mean time.

Despite the casting of some great actors, none of these characters (or half a dozen others) has any complexity to speak of -- and as Elwood gets in well over his head in a big, dangerous heroin deal that becomes the crux of the plot, the film's ironic, deprecating implication that its events aren't too far from reality lacks acerbic resonance as a result.

The wicked sense of humor that underscores "Buffalo Soldiers" (the title has nothing to do with the 19th century Black army regiments of the same name) can be enjoyably dark, as in the ruthless tit-for-tat rivalry that forms between Top and Elwood. When the crooked clerk takes Top's teenage daughter (the preternaturally, naively seductive Anna Paquin) out on a date, the next morning he finds himself ordered onto a firing range where his ill-gotten Mercedes is being used for target practice.

But sometimes that same humor turns ugly (accidental deaths are played for malicious laughs), and the movie is ironically at its flattest when Jordan thinks he's at his sharpest and most clever.

The problem isn't that "Buffalo Soldiers" is inconsistent. It's that the movie's derision is missing the focus and conviction a good socio-political military lampooning needs to make its point clear.


Comments

Buffalo Soldiers Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, LIMITED: Friday, August 8, 2003

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

The Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Trailer Is Here: Was It Worth The Wait?

The moment Fifty Shades of Grey fans have been waiting for is finally...

The Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Trailer Is Here: Was It Worth The Wait?

Alec Baldwin (Mostly) Off The Hook On Disorderly Conduct Charges

Alec Baldwin was in court on Tuesday, facing charges of disorderly...

Alec Baldwin (Mostly) Off The Hook On Disorderly Conduct Charges

Pitbull feat. John Ryan - Fireball

Pitbull drops his eighth studio album 'Globalization' later this year and...

Pitbull - Fireball Video

The British Film Institute: 'There Are Too Many Films'

The BFI have condemned the amount of films released in British cinemas...

The British Film Institute: 'There Are Too Many Films'

What The Critics Are Saying About Scarlett Johansson's 'Lucy'

Early reviews of Scarlett Johansson’s new movie Lucy are piling up...

What The Critics Are Saying About Scarlett Johansson's 'Lucy'

Dwayne Johnson Battles His Way Through Non-Stop Absurdity In "Hercules"

It’s Hercules time! So we know that Dwayne Johnson made a lot...

Dwayne Johnson Battles His Way Through Non-Stop Absurdity In
Advertisement

Arty Ft. Angel Taylor - Up All Night [Lyric] Video

Russian musician Arty has collaborated with Angel Taylor on his latest single 'Up All Night', released on...

Arty - Up All Night (Lyric Video) Video

Those Colin Farrell for 'Iron Man 4' Rumors Refuse To Die

Rumors are abound that seminal Iron Man actor, Robert Downey Jr, will not be...

Those Colin Farrell for 'Iron Man 4' Rumors Refuse To Die

Marvel Announces Release Date for Unknown Movie - What Could It Be?

Last week Marvel studios took the unusual step of announcing five upcoming...

Marvel Announces Release Date for Unknown Movie - What Could It Be?


More recommendations

Advertisement