Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Short film 'How Democracy Really Works'.
AT A time when the majority of Americans are striving to have
their soldiers portrayed as some sort of heroic role models, Buffalo
Soldiers arrives like a two-fingered salute to any notion of patriotism.
The film was originally scheduled for release in late 2001, but
was put on hold due to the September 11 terrorist atrocities,
for fear of it being deemed insensitive.
And its not difficult to see why certain patriots could
be appalled. The film is a bitingly funny, blacker-than-black
comedy designed to expose the hypocrisy of the myths about the
glories of war and power, as seen through the eyes of its amoral
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Specialist Ray Elwood, of the 317th
Battalion stationed in West Germany just days before the fall
of the Berlin Wall, who sets his stall out from the start, with
the gleeful admission that the three things he loves about Germany
are, my Mercedes Benz, no speed limit on the Autobahn, and
a black market for anything I can get my hands on.
Elwood operates as a sort of latter-day Sgt Bilko for the Trainspotting
generation, confident in the knowledge that his inept but caring
commander, Wallace Berman (Ed Harris), is wrapped around his little
But his own cold war hots up considerably, with the arrival of
Scott Glenns no-nonsense top Sergeant Lee, who determines
to clean up the base and rid it of the drug-dealing element that
is earning it a bad name.
And so begins a battle of wits between the two, as Elwood sets
his sights on Lees daughter (Anna Paquin), while trying
to negotiate an arms deal that could set him up for life.
Given its heady mix of morally bankrupt characters, and its depiction
of the US soldiers as, at best, inept, and, at worst, corrupt
young men, director, Gregor Jordan, was always likely to be courting
controversy with his adaptation of Robert OConnors
Yet for those who can see past the inclination to criticise it
for daring to depict soldiers in anything but a heroic light,
there are rich rewards.
The story itself is never less than compelling, while some of
the set pieces are a riot - particularly when a stoned tank crew
goes on the rampage through a market, before inadvertently blowing
up a petrol station and killing two of their own colleagues.
The film also contains plenty of wry observations at the expense
of the gung-ho image of the military that is frequently depicted
on film, while also delivering some notable performances, not
least from Phoenix, who continues to build on an impressive CV.
His happy-go-lucky Elwood is a barbed delight, a morally complex
anti-hero who does what he does through sheer boredom, before
eventually being forced to take some sort of responsibility for
his actions, particularly in regards to his feelings for Paquin.
It is a cool, charismatic turn in a really hip movie, which also
boasts star turns from Harris (cast against type as the wimpish
commander), Paquin (playing it cute), and Glenn (whose hard-as-nails
sergeant is every bit as dangerous as the guys he is trying to
According to different reports, passions at the Sundance Film
Festival were running so high against the film that, at one screening,
a member of the audience attempted to pelt the director/screen
with a plastic bottle, only to hit Paquin or an elderly viewer.
Ironic, really, that a film designed to highlight the hypocrisy
of war should provoke a bout of friendly fire.