Buffalo Soldiers

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Movie Review by Reece De Ville

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Anna Paquin, Scott Glenn, Elizabeth McGovern
Director: Gregor Jordan

“War Is Hell” they tell us, but for Ray Elwood (Phoenix), peacetime is far worse than that. It’s boring. Still, he’s the man who can get you anything and everything, long as it’s under the nose of the unsuspecting Colonel Berman (Harris). The place is Germany, the Berlin Wall is about to fall and the 317th Supply Battalion is about to get a serious shake up of its own…

Delays, delays, delays. That really should have been the epitaph for BUFFALO SOLDIERS. As a film that portrays the American Military as, well, as they truly are would never be a popular stateside release in the wake of the Afghanistan hunt for al Qaeda and the ‘war against terror (trademark Norman Wisdom, sorry, George Bush). A delay of 2 years also often suggests that the film could be a bit of a stinker. In fact, the opposite couldn’t be truer here. Never was there such a perfect time to release a film that criticises the American army and BUFFALO SOLDIERS just about fits the bill.

BUFFALO SOLDIERS borrows heavily from such oddball war films as CATCH-22 (bored central protagonist? Check) and STRIPES (humorous group escapades? Check), but manages to rise above such comparisons with excellent performances from Phoenix, Harris and Glenn as the fearsome Sergeant Lee. Where there is action, there is always a reaction and Jordan doesn’t flinch at showing the dark underbelly of Elwood and his team. Indeed, it is testament to Phoenix’s performance that it would be all too easy to stop caring for this arrogant, cocky character. Perhaps the only weak link here is in Anna Paquin, yet she really doesn’t have all that much to do except look cute and adoring at Elwood.

David Holmes’s score is as eclectic as ever and serves to add, as he did with OCEAN’S ELEVEN, an air of coolness to the shenanigans of Elwood and company. Perhaps he’s in danger of Elfism (when an innovative composer begins to recycle the same score over and over again – see Danny Elfman) with his instantly recognisable scores, yet his music really helps to draw the viewer in to the dark heart of the film. Coupled with this, Jordan’s direction is often reminiscent of John Landis with its quirky, yet dark, set pieces, and with his oft referred to shot of Elwood falling in his dreams in particular, serves up his own brand of edgy visual flair.

Yet, there are problems. Characters are maimed and killed without much of a mention, yet it could be argued that this is merely a hint at the covering up of peacetime accidents/murders within the army. The characters of Mrs Berman (McGovern) and Robyn Lee (Paquin) aren’t well written, with McGovern in particular serving merely as a caricature of a vampy mistress. Yet, the tone of the film is consistent and with a likeable central cast, these problems are very tiny in the overall mix.

BUFFALO SOLDIERS may not appeal to the masses due to its controversial subject matter, yet its mix of dark humour and tragedy makes this the best trip into the American Military’s heart of darkness since APOCALYPSE NOW.

4 out of 6 stars