Main cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Ray Elwood), Ed Harris (Colonel Berman), Scott Glenn (Sgt Lee), Anna Paquin (Robyn Lee), Elizabeth McGovern (Mrs Berman), Michael Peña (Garcia), Leon Robinson (Stoney), Gabriel Mann (Knoll), and Dean Stockwell (General Lancaster)
Director: Gregor Jordan
The much-delayed movie Buffalo Soldiers will not be popular in today’s times where Donald Rumsfield cannot do any wrong. It’s a dark and horrifically funny movie about the definitely unfunny larceny the US soldiers stationed at Germany in 1989 can get up to. Ultimately, the movie descends into unworthy melodrama and a predictable ending that is far from effective, and I suspect that there will be many viewers that will find the actions of the people in this movie too unpalatable and even repulsive to derive much dark comedy from the movie.
Our “hero” is Private Ray Elwood. Straight off the bat, his opening monologue presents a bleak picture of this particular German base: most of the soldiers here are here because the only other option is prison. The people running the base, like Colonel Berman, are more interested in looking good and getting promoted. As a result, the enterprising Ray has plenty of room to cook up drugs and sell them for his own personal nest egg. As a supply clerk, he is like the wolf guarding the sheep pen. He not only sleeps with Berman’s wife, he is also Berman’s favorite. He helps Berman compose a false letter to the family of the soldier that died in a basketball game that got too rough, after they throw the body of the dead man down from the roof so that they can say he died from a fall while repairing the roof.
When several soldiers man a tank while being high on drugs, they end up destroying a town and a petrol station before driving off in the sunset. Ray and his fellow entrepreneurs come across several trucks of some dead soldiers caught in the tank’s path and decide to steal the huge stash of weapons in these trucks and sell them to black marketeers. This is before they watch the collapse of the Berlin Wall on TV and wonder where Berlin is.
Good life for Ray comes to a halt when Sgt Lee comes in to take command of the men and immediately pegs Ray for the troublemaker he is. When Ray starts dating Lee’s daughter, Lee declares war by having the soldiers destroy Ray’s Mercedes in target practice. Then there are gang fights in the base and an angry crime boss threatening to kill Ray if Ray doesn’t deliver a huge stash of drugs to him, and Buffalo Soldiers is a movie that will cause Donald Rumsfeld to have a cardiac arrest and declare war on America itself.
This movie’s unflattering portrayal of how low the military can be makes no apologies for itself and it sure doesn’t even try to make heroes out of anyone here. This I appreciate – heck, give me Buffalo Soldiers as it is as far from being unpatriotic as some idiots are already accusing this movie of being: it’s just a dark comedy portraying how an army base ran by idiots and populated by thugs and weasels can redefine the meaning of FUBAR. However, this movie does itself a big disservice by tagging on a denouement that is ridiculous as much as it is overly melodramatic and the “ironic” ending is far more predictable than it is clever.
By making winners out of weasels, this movie may not be politically correct in a time like today, but it’s a well-written, well-acted satirical dark comedy that is worth watching. Having to squirm uncomfortably through some moments in this movie is far better than having to endure mindless blockbuster movies that mistake vigilante and military might as the “righteous” way of the new world order.