Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Buffalo Soldiers

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

BUFFALO SOLDIERS

6/10

UK (UK/Ger) 2001 (released 2003) : Gregor JORDAN : 98 mins

The US army is now bigger than that of the next ten countries put together: a dangerous imbalance made all the more worrying by events before, during, and after the Iraq war revealing an institution whose arrogance is exceeded only by its incompetence. Though oft-postponed in the aftermath of 9/11, Buffalo Soldiers could hardly be more topical: a freewheelingly black comedy set in and around a West German US army-base as the Berlin Wall is crumbling, it presents Americas military as an ill-disciplined, bickering bunch of thugs, drug-freaks, patsies, crooks and racketeers. Chief among the latter is Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), whose many schemes and scams eventually attract the unwelcome attentions of hard-assed Sergeant Robert E Lee (Scott Glenn) who isn’t exactly thrilled when Elwood starts romancing his daughter Robyn (Anna Paquin), either.

Propelled by an effortlessly cool David Holmes score, Buffalo Soldiers coasts along engagingly on Elwood/Phoenixs glib, cynical, attitude-heavy charisma – but loses its way when scriptwriter Eric Weiss (adapting Robert OConnors novel) has to knuckle down and concentrate on plot. What could have been a bracing combination of M*A*S*H and Three Kings falls short not least because director Jordan lacks both Altmans flair and David O Russells visual boldness. The results, though never less than entertaining, end up more like a smug, post-modern Sgt Bilko with drugs n guns – but inferior jokes.

9th July, 2003
(seen 7th June: Showcase, Dudley)

by Neil Young