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Buffalo Soldiers (R)
Miramax
Official Site
Director: Gregor Jordan
Producers: Rainer Grupe II, Ariane Moody
Written by: Eric Axel Weiss & Nora Maccoby; based on Robert OíConnorís book
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Anna Pacquin, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Dean Stockwell, Gabriel Mann, Leon Robinson, Elizabeth McGovern

Rating: out of 5


Originally filmed in 2001, Buffalo Soldiers, a pitchblack comedy about barracks life in Germany toward the end of the Cold War, was held back after the 9/11 attacks, and then subsequently held back again for the major combat phase of the Iraqi invasion. So now after almost two year on the shelf, the makers of Buffalo Soldiers finally feel itís releasable. And while itís not hard to imagine what the Army might object to about the film, for instance the rampant drug use, what I found most surprising was how apolitical the film really was.

As bleak and pessimistic as the film is, it canít even be said to have a strong anti-authoritarian streak as the officers in the film may be the only sympathetic characters in the whole movie. No, this is a satire about the grunts, young men whoíve joined the military for one reason or another. Joaquin Phoenixís Ray Elwood chooses a stint in the military over a short prison term. Heís only to kill time. That might sound a bit like M*A*S*H, but instead of martinis and rowdy, good-natured antics these boys pass the time with heroin and stealing for the black market.

Elwood is your model anti-hero, smarmy enough to play the game and clever enough to see the angles. Heís an unrepentant criminal, sure (his first impulse on encountering two soldiers whoíve died in an accidentósteal their truck). But that doesnít mean he hasnít got a sensitive side, a sensitive side heíd like to share with the luscious young daughter (Paquin) of his commanding sergeant, a ball buster named Robert E. Lee (Glenn, in a steely-eyed performance). In addition to Lee, Elwood and his partners must also contend with a gang of Black MPs (Buffalo Soldiers??) who know about his heist of the truck and want to move in on his drug operation.

This movie can be really funny at times. Thereís a good bit with some drug-addled soldier plowing through a German city in a tank, and the story is constructed tightly enough to make its apocalyptic ending satisfying. Still thereís an emptiness at the core of this film. Itís not just that itís apoliticaóafter all we donít really need another stale diatribe about the fascism of military lifeóbut thereís really no insight into any of the characters. Joaquin Phoenix does a perfectly good job exuding smugness as the man on the make. But the movie makes a lame play at humanizing him with a thinly contrived dream metaphor when it would have been wiser to flesh out his relationship with the sergeantís daughter. Ultimately Buffalo Soldiers is a case of shimmering shallowness, worthwhile for a few good laughs, but thereís not much else here.

óEdward Rholes

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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