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