Gregor Jordan’s first film (or at least the first one I ever saw) had a strange story vehicle that I’ve never quite understood. His second film (or at least the second one I ever saw) had so much obviousness as to be overly understood. This one, Buffalo Soldiers, lands perfectly between the two with just enough information to have you wondering… but not too long before you figure it out.
(Those films were, by the way, Two Hands and the dead brother angle, and Ned Kelly, brutally apparent and fanciful storytelling).
Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) is the man. Stationed in West Germany days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he can get you anything you need (provided he can get his hands on it). Into his idyllic world comes Sergeant Robert Lee (Scott Glenn), who doesn’t approve of Elwood’s suspected black marketeering, and sets about crushing him. Elwood won’t go down without a fight, however, and he wangles a date with Lee’s daughter (Anna Paquin). The two become very close, which drives Lee over the edge and a fast and furious war between the two begins in earnest. After happening upon two trucks of weapons, Elwood’s penny-ante dreams are realised and he prepares for the biggest black market score of his career. However, Lee is watching and waiting…
|"War is hell… but peace? Peace is f*cking boring!"|
Considered too politically sensitive to release after September 11, 2001, it’s easy to see why. American soldiers are all addicts or worse in this caustic telling of the casualties of peace. It’s comic though, certainly, with some quite funny moments, though there is that underlying sadness to the film that identifies peaceful army films of this sort. Like someone has taken the gung-ho of the U.S. Army and replaced it with a desk job.
There’s no doubt the U.S. Army, governed so well as it is, suffers this sort of insider trading, though the number of addicts might be a shock (if they’re based on real figures). I guess that’s what peacetime may be like for a service dedicated to fighting. Nothing to do for long stretches and nowhere to go to do it.
I find films like this that seem to have a more grounded approach to reality a bit more challenging than your yeeha war movies, and invariably make for a more lasting portrait of life during wartime, or indeed Army life fullstop.
Ed Harris is perfect in the role of the misguided colonel running his base, controlled by his puppet-master wife (who also wishes to control Elwood). Phoenix does his usual best as the brazen Elwood, skimming off the top for his own ends, while Glenn is superb (again, as usual) as the crusty Lee. Paquin too shines (of course) as the unruly daughter attracted to Lee’s new nemesis. Together as a cast the film comes together nicely, leaving this reviewer finally figuring just enough and knowing just enough from a Gregor Jordan film.
From the beginning we get some mild grain which appears and reappears throughout the film. This isn’t major, nor are the film artefacts that bob up here and there. Colours are fine, although the blacks are a dirtier grey/black and shadow detail isn’t the best (though not the worst). Flesh tones are fine and the enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio gives the film its full cinematic range, although it doesn’t utilise it a great deal. Not so many long panoramic vistas, although there are some cool night-above-city shots at various times during Elwood’s dreams.
A pretty good looking picture for the most part.
Standard Dolby Digital 5.1 here that delivers a bang rather nicely. While not in constant use, there are some defining moments with explosions, gunfire and interior nightclubs that sound great. These nightclub scenes and other musical tracks give deep subwoofer action that sounds awesome, particularly when those tracks are early stuff from Public Enemy and De La Soul. New Order even gets a look in, too.
David Holmes’ score suits the film well with a funky and slick feeling that fits well with the overall theme. This too gets around the surrounds nicely throughout. As to dialogue this is all fine and easily understood though if there’s a problem the subtitles are fairly close to the actual script.
Yep, it’s well worth checking out. I enjoyed this a good deal and didn’t once find myself eyeing the time. Phoenix and Paquin work well together here, with Ms. Paquin looking great in her 90210-style jeans and shirt combos.
It’s a funny take on army life that, while not being as warm as M*A*S*H or as silly as Stripes, still finds the target. Perhaps a little over the top at times, it nonetheless remains a very enjoyable film for anyone interested in something a bit left of centre.