Published Aug 01, 2003Buffalo Soldiers played the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2001. Two days later the film was shelved and America would embark on a military crusade that would culminate with the Iraqi War. As that conflict drags on, the belated release of Buffalo Soldiers becomes prophetic.
Based on Robert O'Connor's 1996 novel, Buffalo Soldiers is a funny but flawed black comedy that slaps the American military in the face. Set on a West German army base at the end of the Cold War, Buffalo Soldiers follows Specialist Ray Elwood (a commanding Joaquin Phoenix), a car thief who joined the army to avoid prison and now runs enough arms and drug scams to afford a Mercedes Benz. His fellow soldiers are "criminals and high school dropouts," while his commanders are either incompetent (Ed Harris's Col. Berman) or mad (Scott Glenn's Sgt. Lee).
Sgt. Lee is Elwood's nemesis, a hard-ass Vietnam vet who's bent on shutting down black-market Elwood. In retaliation, Elwood seduces Lee's teenage daughter, Robyn (Anna Paquin), but falls in love with her instead. The battle between Elwood and Lee escalates against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall's demise and illustrates the theme of soldiers creating wars amongst themselves when there's no enemy to fight.
Buffalo Soldiers is a welcome antidote to the current wave of nauseating, pro-military Hollywood jingoism. Soldiers invites comparisons to Altman's sardonic M*A*S*H* but also the wisecracking Sgt. Bilko. Australian director Gregor Jordan loses his satiric focus late in the film, getting mired in Elwood's big drug deal, but he and writers Eric Weiss and Nora Maccoby lend Elwood and Robyn's romance an unexpected sweetness and bestow Ed Harris' kind but bumbling Col. Berman with immense sympathy.
As scandal rocks Tony Blair and the American Army spirals deeper into Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. support for war is slipping. Buffalo Soldiers comes at the right time with the right cynicism. (Alliance Atlantis)