Buffalo Soldiers


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Rating: R

Joaquin Phoenix as Ray Elwood
Ed Harris as Colonel Berman
Scott Glenn as Sergeant Lee
Anna Paquin as Robyn Lee
Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs. Berman
Michael Pena as Garcia
Leon as Stoney
Gabriel Mann as Knoll
Dean Stockwell as General Lancaster
Brian Delate as Colonel Marshall
Shiek Mahmud-Bey as Sergeant Saad
Amani Gethers as Kirschfield
Noah Margetts as Rothfuss
Tom Ellis as Squash
Kick Gurry as Video

Special Features:
Commentary With Director Gregor Jordan

“Beyond The Iron Curtain” – Behind the Scenes of Buffalo Soldiers

Anatomy of a Scene

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
English and French Language Track
Running Time: 99 Minutes

Buffalo Soldiers is based on the novel by Robert O’Connor. It was originally released in 2001 then widely in the U.S. in 2003.

In 1989, Ray Elwood is stationed as a clerk in West Germany with the U.S. Army. As the Cold War winds to a close, he and his fellow soldiers find other things besides combat to occupy their time. Ray is involved with drug trafficking, smuggling, and other illegal activities. He is the key figure in the black market on the Army base.

Just as he expands into stolen arms, Sergeant Lee arrives on the base. Tough and no-nonsense, he is quickly on Ray’s case. Just to spite Lee, Ray takes out Robyn, Lee’s teenage daughter, on a date. Thus begins a personal war between Lee and Ray. However, one thing happens to Ray that he didn’t see coming. He falls in love with Robyn.

As various factions on the base vie for control of the black market, Ray must stay ahead of the game if he’s to survive.

Buffalo Soldiers is rated R for violence, drug content, strong language and some sexuality.

The Movie:
Buffalo Soldiers is described as a dark comedy showing the seedy underbelly of the U.S. Armed Forces. Buffalo Soldiers had the unfortunate timing of having a theatrical release date almost immediately after September 11, 2001. Due to the sweeping patriotic feelings in the U.S., this movie was pulled and released at a later date. As open minded as I try to be while watching movies, I still found myself turned off by the portrayal of the military as drug dealers, thieves, murderers, and generally not nice people. While I have no doubt that these types of people exist in the Army, I still don’t find it particularly entertaining to see. That’s just my personal tastes, but I imagine a lot of other Americans feel the same way.

Buffalo Soldiers has a fantastic cast. I love Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, and Anna Paquin. I generally really enjoy their work, but this particular film didn’t appeal to me. I must also give credit to Joaquin Phoenix. His character is a horrible human being in so many ways, yet somehow he’s still able to make the viewer like him. I don’t know what it is about his performance, but he’s able to make Ray a likable character despite his crimes. Unfortunately, though, none of the other characters are sympathetic in any way. Every character seems to get what they deserve and you never really identify with them. That’s one of the major problems of the movie. There’s nobody that is a shining light of reason or goodness to contrast the ‘bad guys’.

Buffalo Soldiers is also a good cautionary tale. They repeatedly mention that war is hell, but peace is even worse. This film shows us how bad things can get when the Armed Forces are not properly supervised. Filling the ranks with “high school drop outs and criminals” isn’t exactly a recipe for success, especially when the troops are needed.

Overall, I recognize that Buffalo Soldiers is a well made and well acted movie. However, the story itself did nothing much for me and was a bit of a turn off. Comparisons are inevitably made to M*A*S*H and Catch 22, but in light of real world events, I find myself not in a mood to give it a good reception.

The Extras:
There are a bare minimum number of extras on this DVD:

Commentary With Director Gregor Jordan – Gregor Jordan’s commentary actually makes Buffalo Soldiers more interesting than I found it upon the first viewing. He has a lot to say about the real history on the German bases, how they shot the film, etc. He shows a real depth of knowledge about life on the bases. Besides getting his facts straight, he also shows a great deal of thought behind the characters. While I didn’t care for the final product, I did gain a greater appreciation for what he was trying to do by listening to his commentary.

“Beyond The Iron Curtain” – Behind the Scenes of Buffalo Soldiers – This is an extremely short, 5 minute long video on the making of the movie. There are a few behind the scenes shots and interviews with cast and crew, but not much more.

Anatomy of a Scene – This is an episode of the “Anatomy of a Scene” show that appears on the Sundance Channel. This episode was devoted to Buffalo Soldiers, of course, and is included on the DVD. The show picks out a key scene from the movie and goes extremely in-depth into the writing of the scene, the location scouting, the production design, filming, acting, and editing. It’s interesting for fans of the movie and a brilliant source of teaching for film students. The scene in this episode is one where a tank, driven by stoned soldiers, plows through a German town and then blows up a gas station. It opens up the opportunity for Ray to steal arms. This show is really fascinating and I recommend checking it out even if you didn’t like the movie.

The Bottom Line:
Buffalo Soldiers is a movie mainly for fans of Joaquin Phoenix, fans of independent films, the Germans, and the French. Mainstream audiences will probably be turned off by it.