This film was made in 2001 but the release was disrupted after the 9/11 attacks on the east coast of America. Unlike Black Hawk Down whose release was rushed forward to coincide with the heightened patriotic mood, the release of Buffalo Soldiers was held back until well into 2003, and then was only shown at a handful of picture houses.

One reason for this is that, unlike, Black Hawk Down, the film does not portray the US Army in a very positive light. The film centres on a US army base in West Germany in the late 1980s. The central character Elwood, played by Joaquin Phoenix is a Milo Minderbinder-lite figure, a supplies clerk involved in a hundred and one different scams. One of these scams happens to be the production and supply of illegal drugs to the majority of the feckless young men who have been enlisted or otherwise corralled into the army. The opening scenes show the atmosphere as being more like a fraternity camp than an army base.

So with any fraternity worth its name (least in the movies) we have pranks galore! Our protagonists, with the resources of the US army at their disposal, decide a slight joyride through a German town is in order, in the process flattening a Volkswagen Beetle (this incident was apparently based on an amalgam of real events in Mannheim, where the people inside the car did not escape) and a petrol station. This series of events presents Elwood and friends the chance to pilfer some hardcore weaponry which they plan to sell on the black market.

Elwood's plans start to run into difficulties after he cross paths with a hard-as-nails, Vietnam veteran Sergeant Lee played by Scott Glenn. The middle part of the movie concerns the pair in a sequence of tit-for-tat exchanges with each attempting to get one over on the other. In the process Elwood begins to date Lee's daughter Robyn (Anna Paquin). Predictably the two have a thing and we have to endure a nightclub scene where the pair take ecstasy while dancing to New Order. In the meantime Ed Harris the buffoonish head of base is striving for ways to impress his superiors and a chain of events that takes the movie to its conclusion is initiated.

This movie is an amicable black comedy but no Catch-22, and certainly undeserving of the kneejerk reactionist self-censorship displayed by Miramax. Its display of bored soldiers in peacetime is nothing new, and the lasting impression of the film is that it's like the second half of Stripes without Warren Oates There are a few amusing lines but is too serious for a laughout comedy and too knowing to be taken seriously and the ending smacks of overkill. Still if you're intrigued to see why this film should be kept from good patriots then it may be worth a view.


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 Robinson - as Stoney
Gabriel Mann - as Knoll
Dean Stockwell - as General Lancaster
Brian Delate - as Colonel Marshall
Shiek Mahmud-Bey - as Sergeant Saad

Directed by Gregor Jordan

Written by Gregor Jordan, Eric Weiss and Nora Maccoby

Music by David Holmes

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