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Buffalo Soldiers

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Buffalo Soldiers

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Anna Paquin
Director: Gregor Jordan
Rated: R
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: July 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Dean Stockwell, Elizabeth McGovern, Gabriel Mann

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

In a story that seems ripped from the headlines, BUFFALO SOLDIERS tells of the exploits of a group that sells handheld missiles to arms dealers, who, undoubtedly, then sell them to terrorists. It's a nightmare scenario that that is unfolding today in front of our very own eyes.

What is different about BUFFALO SOLDIERS, besides claiming to be based on real incidents, is that the story, set in 1989 in West Germany, is about our soldiers selling the stolen missiles. The movie argues quite pedantically that almost all of our soldiers are dirty, and that those not involved in stealing, drug dealing and racial beatings are incompetent. Moreover, it states that new recruits in the military are all either high school dropouts or criminals forced into a form of temporary servitude by judges.

While some of these themes have been played for broad comic effect before in films such as MASH, BUFFALO SOLDIERS uses a very serious tone in its universal condemnation. The movie is more dark drama than dark comedy, no matter what its goofy trailers would lead you to believe.

The antimilitary motif has always been popular in Hollywood, but, after 9-11-01, it has been pushed more to the side. BUFFALO SOLDIERS would probably not be made today, but it was actually sold to its distributor on 9-10-01, which explains why it saw no problem with its blatant hostility towards the men -- there are no female soldiers in the picture -- who defend our nation.

Having said all of that, the movie's ridiculous diatribes are impeccably acted. Joaquin Phoenix plays Ray Elwood, a soldier who works in the supply department, stealing everything in sight, and who is a major drug distributor and manufacturer. He is also the film's frequent narrator with words of wisdom about our troops. When we first meet Elwood, he is busying covering up the death of a soldier.

Typical of the movie's humor is a time when a tank crew, after shooting up on heroin inside the tank, drive through a German town and gas station, smashing everything in sight and killing people in the process.

Ed Harris plays Colonel Berman, the wimpy officer in charge of Elwood's unit. Berman is dumb, blind and incompetent. Scott Glenn plays Sergeant Lee, the new Top who makes Elwood's life a living hell. In return, Elwood dates the Top's wild daughter Robyn (Anna Paquin), just to drive his sergeant crazy.

Some of the things the soldiers do can't help but make you smile since they are so outlandish -- just try not to think of the film's heavy-handed messages, which will probably infuriate you.

BUFFALO SOLDIERS runs 1:38. It is rated R for "violence, drug content, strong language and some sexuality" and would be acceptable for most teenagers.

My son Jeffrey, age 14, had some of the same mixed reactions that I did, only more so. Giving it ** 1/2, he said that he thought the film was funny, well cast and well acted. But he got extremely angry at the movie's message that our military is so uniformly despicable.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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