Buffalo Soldiers (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/07/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 98 minutes

Essentially this is M*A*S*H meets Trainspotting – a stylish, darkly funny, deeply unpatriotic cocktail of violence and comedy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Gregor Jordan’s Buffalo Soldiers has had an extremely rocky ride thoughout the two and a half years it has taken to reach our screens. Miramax reputedly picked it up for distribution on September 10th 2001 and were understandably reluctant to release it after the events that took place the following day.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the closure of FilmFour deprived it of its British distributor, though not before it had picked up some good reviews at the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival.

Thankfully, however, thanks to the good people at Pathé, the old adage of ‘quality will out’ proves to be true and the result is a hip, stylish black comedy that may be one of the best films of the year.

Somewhat Dodgy Wheeler Dealer

Joaquin Phonenix plays Ray Elwood, a wheeler-dealing army specialist stationed on a US base in West Germany in 1989. To avoid terminal boredom (and to make a little cash), he spends his time cooking and selling heroin to the troops, as well as other little Bilko-esque sidelines such as selling industrial strength cleaning fluid to hygiene-obsessed Germans.

However, he soon finds himself with more than he bargained for, firstly when he winds up with a shipment of stolen weapons and secondly when he clashes with hardass sergeant Robert Lee (Scott Glenn).

Buffalo Soldiers owes a sizeable debt to films such as M*A*S*H and Catch 22 – like the latter, it is also based on a cult novel. It would also make a good double-bill with Three Kings, with which it shares a similar anti-establishment attitude and pitch-black sense of humour.

Understandably, given that the movie shows US soldiers indulging in drug-taking, murder and wholescale corruption, it isn’t expected to go down too well in the States, though, frankly, that’s as good a reason as any to see it.

Comedic, Violent And Superbly Cast

The acting is excellent. Phoenix is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors and he’s superb here as the laconic Elwood (the scene where he reluctantly joins in the shooting of his own car is hilarious).

Glenn is also perfectly cast as the sergeant, though it’s Ed Harris who really impresses, cast brilliantly against type as the slightly dreamy, ineffectual Colonel Berman (essentially Col Hall to Elwood’s Bilko). There’s also good support from Anna Paquin as Lee’s daughter, whom Elwood dates specifically to spite the sergeant.

In short, this is well worth seeing. The tone lurches occasionally between the comedy and the violence, but overall this is well-written, impeccably acted and has a terrific soundtrack to boot. Recommended.

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Content updated: 24/10/2017 01:24

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