of Buffalo Soldiers movie
a seemingly endless run of unbridled militarism in the movies, it's a
relief to get a film that moves in the other direction. If Buffalo
Soldiers doesn't come across as full bore anti-Rambo, at least it
tweaks the genre's nose.
clerk Ray Elwood (Jaoquin Phoenix) runs the base where he's stationed
in West Germany pretty much the way he wants. That is, he
has a healthy business selling army supplies on the black market while
greasing enough palms to make certain life is basically sweet. There's
little danger of getting killed in combat anyway, since the U.S.'s long-standing foe is busy
self-immolating. It's 1989, and the Berlin Wall is coming down.
political drama plays out on TV vignettes as a mostly ignored backdrop
to the shady dealings of Elwood and his partners, who pay attention
only to their own interests that include the possibility of early
retirement through the sale of stolen weaponry. This is entering the
big leagues, but there is little danger of savvy or interference from
the army brass, represented by the myopic colonel in charge of the base
(wonderfully played by Ed Harris). Elwood regularly has the colonel
sign for outrageously high quantities of supplies without engendering
the slightest suspicion, and he entertains his commander's wife
(Elizabeth McGovern) as a side benefit.
this changes with the arrival of a new staff sergeant (Scott Glenn), an
apparent incorruptible who immediately sizes up the situation and
places Elwood at the top of his doo-doo list. In revenge, the shifty
file clerk begins dating the sergeant's daughter (Anna Paquin).
Meanwhile, things are getting complicated in the arms dealing business
and Elwood has his hands full treading between his vengeful superior
and shadier elements on the base and in the community.
this makes for an interesting and fast-moving plot, laced with
occasional forays into dark humour. The screenplay is adequate if not
outstanding in this quickly edited effort that at least has the honesty
to question the insufferable air of superiority and righteousness
infecting most U.S. military flicks. These buffalo soldiers,
we're informed by Elwood's narration, consist mainly of high school
dropouts and citizens who have run afoul of the law. (The army seemed
preferable to prison, though Elwood's entertaining some doubts on that
Buffalo Soldiers is an adequately made movie with enough
good laughs to place it on the recommended list, and its politics, as
such, are healthily irreverent. This includes a scene that blends
iconoclasm with the typical Hollywood love of mass destruction, when a tank crew
stoned on heroin creates mayhem and death mis-steering the
death-dealing machine through town. Indeed, the ingestion of drugs and
alcohol comprise the key pursuits of soldiers so bored and
intellectually adrift they're not certain or concerned about which Germany they're stationed in.
contrast, Glenn's sergeant is iron resolve masking a truly psychotic
mission to rid the world of its Elwoods. Having done three tours of Vietnam and having loved every minute of it, the
sergeant is the closest thing to the Clint Eastwood types featured in Hollywood's arsenal of militaristic propaganda
films. This is a film, then, in which there are no real heroes, only
survivors who discover some sense of decency amid the carnage.
It might be expecting too much that the U.S.
film industry, so tied to the jingoism of the White House these days,
will produce a truly anti-war film as occasionally emerged in the
Vietnam War days. In the meantime, the sardonic view of Buffalo
Soldiers will do.