×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Buffalo Soldiers

The unseemly underbelly of the peacetime army is dissected to darkly comic effect in "Buffalo Soldiers." Intriguing up to a point for its peek into a little-examined piece of American military life — specifically, troops stationed in 1989 Germany with little to do — pic turns sour with its relentless and ultimately cynical view of uxorial and strife-ridden relationships among soldiers.

With:
Ray Elwood - Joaquin Phoenix Col. Wallace Berman - Ed Harris Sgt. Robert Lee - Scott Glenn Robyn Lee - Anna Paquin Knoll - Gabriel Mann Stoney - Leon Robinson Sgt. Saad - Sheik Mahumd-Bey Garcia - Michael Pena Hicks - Glenn Fitzgerald Gen. Lancaster - Dean Stockwell Mrs. Berman - Elizabeth McGovern

The unseemly underbelly of the peacetime army is dissected to darkly comic effect in “Buffalo Soldiers.” Intriguing up to a point for its peek into a little-examined piece of American military life — specifically, troops stationed in 1989 Germany with little to do — pic turns sour with its relentless and ultimately cynical view of uxorial and strife-ridden relationships among soldiers. Possibly much more damaging in terms of the film’s commercial prospects, however, is the slim chance, any time in the foreseeable future, that the American public will feel like supporting an entertainment that hinges on an absurdist view of an entirely disunified and incompetent military. All of a sudden, this looks like the wrong film at the wrong time.

Fronted by a crafty, selfish character reminiscent of William Holden’s memorable Sgt. Sefton in “Stalag 17,” but without the redemption, this adaptation of Robert O’Connor’s novel comes uncomfortably close to endorsing the amoral and illegal manipulations of Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), a clerk with the U.S. Army’s 317th Supply Battalion stationed near Stuttgart who has used his access to goods and equipment — everything from Mop ‘n’ Glo to heavy artillery —to forge a lucrative career on the black market.

Elwood is personal secretary to the insecure base commander, Col. Wallace Berman (Ed Harris), whose neurotic wife (Elizabeth McGovern) he is servicing on the side. To top it off, Elwood also “cooks” the heroin bought and sold by the black MPs who lord it over the base with a distinctly belligerent, racially charged hand.

Elwood’s behavior may be amusing to those who take knee-jerk pleasure in anti-authoritarian antics of any kind, and for a while there is an undeniable pleasure to be had in observing just how this low-ranking but high-living rascal has been able to turn the rules to his advantage and shaft his superiors at every turn. The tilt toward morbid humor is solidified when the irrepressible Elwood, after stumbling across millions’ worth of new armaments in a truck, decides to hide the portable missiles, grenade launchers and guns at a nearby nuclear base until he can dispose of them.

But just as Elwood is poised to pull off the biggest scam of his career, a monkey wrench appears in the person of new top sergeant Robert Lee (Scott Glenn), a tough, old Vietnam vet intent upon some house cleaning. The cocky Elwood’s first move is to start dating Lee’s hot-to-trot daughter Robyn (Anna Paquin), but the more Elwood flaunts his impudence, the more the sergeant tightens the vise on the young upstart, whose plans to deliver the stolen arms suddenly become threatened by some war games scheduled for the nuke base.

Helmer and co-scenarist Gregor Jordan, whose 1999 debut feature, the comic crimer “Two Hands,” was a big hit in its native Australia, handles the action proficiently and paces the escalating complications with fluidity and swiftness. Main problem centers upon the rapidly dwindling feeling one can have for Elwood, an unregenerate bad boy whose disruptive and criminal activities deserve every bit of censure Sgt. Lee can bring to bear.

Had the young Jack Nicholson played such a character during the height of the Vietnam War, it would have been easy to go along for the ride. But skilled as Phoenix is at pulling off the individual scenes of Elwood’s shenanigans, the actor doesn’t come across as embodying rebellion to the marrow of his bones, which renders his scams arbitrary and disagreeably irresponsible. In this context, “upbeat” coda is a cheap turnoff.

Thesps have a lot of snappy exchanges and charged confrontations to enact and do so with verve; Glenn and Paquin come off exceptionally well in this regard. Shot largely at an abandoned American Army base near Karlsruhe, Germany, pic boasts strong production values and a good sense of testosterone-loaded young men whose lack of a productive outlet for their energy results in a lot of wasteful and destructive activity.

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 9, 2001. Running time: 98 MIN.

Buffalo Soldiers

U.K.-Germany

Production: A Miramax (in U.S.) release of a FilmFour and Good Machine Intl. presentation with Odeon Pictures in association with Grosvenor Park of a Gorilla Entertainment/Strange Fiction production. (International sales: Good Machine Intl., New York.) Produced by Rainer, Grupe, Ariane Moody. Executive producers, Paul Webster, James Schamus, Reinard Kloss. Co-producer, Chris Thompson. Co-executive producers, James Wilson, Kai May. Directed by Gregor Jordan. Screenplay, Jordan, Eric Alex Weiss, Nora MacCoby, based on the novel by Robert O'Connor.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Oliver Stapleton; editor, Lee Smith; music, David Holmes; production designer, Steve Jones-Evans; costume designer, Odile Dicks Mireaux; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Muller; associate producer, Amy Kaufman; assistant director, Patrick Clayton; casting, Laura Rosenthal, Ali Farrell

With: Ray Elwood - Joaquin Phoenix Col. Wallace Berman - Ed Harris Sgt. Robert Lee - Scott Glenn Robyn Lee - Anna Paquin Knoll - Gabriel Mann Stoney - Leon Robinson Sgt. Saad - Sheik Mahumd-Bey Garcia - Michael Pena Hicks - Glenn Fitzgerald Gen. Lancaster - Dean Stockwell Mrs. Berman - Elizabeth McGovern

More Film

  • Berlin Awarded 'Tess' Sells to Multiple

    Berlin Awarded 'Tess' Sells to Multiple Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based sales agent Picture Tree Intl. has sold Steven Wouterlood’s coming-of-age film “My Extraordinary Summer with Tess,” which received a Special Mention from the jury of Berlin Film Festival’s Generation KPlus section, to distributors in several territories. Among the buyers are Les Films Du Preau in France, Proview Entertainment in Taiwan, Angel Films in Denmark, [...]

  • China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches

    China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches $557 Million in Second Week

    The winning films from Chinese New Year remained on top of the Chinese box office in their second normal weekend of release. Locally-made sci-fi film “The Wandering Earth” advanced its score to $557 million. “Wandering Earth” earned $88.8 million between Friday and Monday, according to data from Asian film industry consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was [...]

  • Nuno Beato’s ‘My Grandfather’ Part of

    ‘My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons’ Marks Sardinha em Lata’s Animation Build

    Portuguese animator-producer-director Nuno Beato, whose credits include “Emma & Gui,” “Híssis” and the multi-prized “My Life In Your Hands,” will pitch a new project, currently in development, “My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons” at Bordeaux’s upcoming Cartoon Movie, the leading European animated feature forum. Cartoon Movie runs March 5-7. More Reviews Sundance Film [...]

  • DF-10193 – L-R: Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor),

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Leads MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed up love from Cinema Audio Society sound mixers with a pair of honors at the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Sunday night. The musical biopic scored wins for dialogue and ADR as well as sound editing in a musical. The film is nominated for sound editing at the Oscars [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" in

    Writers Guild Makes It Official: This Is the Most Wide-Open Oscars Race Ever

    For the record, we’re in uncharted territory this Oscar season. While we still have the costume designers’ ceremony to get through on Tuesday, the Writers Guild Awards put a bow on the major guild kudos circuit Sunday night. The results have yielded what is, unequivocally, the most wide-open Oscar field in history. More Reviews Sundance [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” The major television trophies went to “The Americans,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Homeland” and “Barry” for the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content