A good cast stars in a dark and unflattering movie about American soldiers at the end of the Cold War, a move that is questionable on two fronts: One, given the war time situation, is it really the right time to release a movie of this nature, and Two, why release a movie that isn't entertaining to begin with?
Buffalo Soldiers stars Joaquin Phoenix (Signs) as Ray Elwood, a soldier stationed in West Germany. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he, along with the rest of his colleagues, are so bored with their post that they have taken to making profits off of everything from selling cleaning fluid to mobsters to selling kilos of drugs. These aren't exactly honorable soldiers. Added to the mix is Colonel Berman (Ed Harris), who is the one honorable man on post but who isn't the most adept at doing anything involving the military. Then there is Sergeant Lee (Scott Glen), a rather psychotic guy who likes to hold grudges, and his beautiful daughter, played by Anna Paquin. Ray makes the mistake of dating her.
Tackling first the controversy, Buffalo Soldiers does not display soldiers in their finest hour no matter how you look at it. The movie is not a conspiracy film portraying a small fraction of soldiers as corrupt; it is a dark comedy that portrays almost every single man as corrupt. The main character - Ray - is one of the most corrupt individuals on the base, and by the time the ending credits roll, it seems as though he hasn't learned a single thing. I am not one that sees patriotism as only portraying your leaders and military in a pleasant light, but even I was a little miffed at the approach this movie was taking. It is a bit disturbing.
Secondly, Buffalo Soldiers just isn't that good. As a comedy, it isn't that funny. It has a few really good parts here and there - such as when Ray is forced to destroy his own Mercedes - but as time goes on Buffalo Soldiers gets worse and worse. The last fifteen minutes are dreadfully unlikable; the final few scenes are a bit too dark for a comedy.
Overall, Buffalo Soldiers has some redeeming value, but not much. It is a surprise that this movie was ever released in theaters, due to its controversial portrayal of American soldiers.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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