Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Anna Paquin
Director: Gregor Jordan
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Date: January 13, 2004
Review posted: January 12, 2004
"Just some requisitions, Sir." -
A U.S. soldier with nothing left
to fight but boredom as the Cold War winds down, Ray Elwood
(Phoenix) enjoys the rush of trading anything he can get his
hands on in West Germany's booming black market while his inept
Commander (Harris) is none the wiser. Everything is perfect
until he starts dating the new Sergeant's daughter, Robyn (Paquin). But
before he can pull off one last big score, Elwood's escalating
personal war with Sergeant Lee (Scott Glenn) will send him
deeper into a deadly mess that may not have a way out.
Soldiers shot from November 2000 through January 2001 in
Germany, but was released in the States only last year in the
fall. That's a little more than two and a half years, although
the film actually premiered at Sundance early last year. Still,
this film sat on the shelf for quite a while, and I'm glad it's
finally out on video for people to see. Some people have called
the film unpatriotic, but it's not like that. Buffalo
Soldiers presents a story about a man who chose three years
in the Army instead of six months in jail. This is Ray Elwood,
and he doesn't mind going over the line sometimes, stealing
things to make a profit, or cooking an illegal substance with
other officers inside an abandoned building.
doesn't depict the Military in a bad way per se, it just shows
us that certain places and certain times can have troubling
consequences on the minds of a few soldiers who are bored to
death. In that sense, Buffalo Soldiers is an entertaining
comedy worth checking out. Directed by Gregor Jordan, the film
is most effective in its direction of comedy and its shaping of
the plot. The opening scene is pretty cool, especially because
it evokes a certain danger. Ray Elwood is having another
"falling" dream, falling through the sky like a bomb. His
problem is he never wakes up. He always hits the ground. The
script is accurate and effective in the way it introduces the
character and leads him through the story.
point of the story begins when three soldiers sit and wait
inside their tank while on a training mission. They figure
nothing is going to happen, so they shoot up on some of Elwood's
drugs. Just as they get high an order comes in for them to move
on. They start moving, but they lost all sense of direction.
What follows is a hilarious scene with the tank driving through
a German village, crashing through an open market and running
over a Volkswagen Beetle, and causing a huge explosion at a gas
station. Add to that, two soldiers are killed in the explosion,
leaving their Army trucks unattended. To top the scene off, the
tank cuts through some forest and miraculously ends up at
exactly the right location. When Elwood and his two buddies,
Stoney (Leon Robinson) and Garcia (Michael Pena), get to the
site, an opportunity arises for the the three to make a fortune,
and possibly even retire, because inside those trucks are highly
valuable weapons that can be traded in for a sweet $3-5 million.
spoiling too much, let me just say this is just the start. Just
when Ray thought things can't go wrong, they do.
Ray takes out the Sergeant's
daughter, Robyn, to piss him off, which starts a personal war
that leads to an incredible training exercise, and gives two
young people the chance to get to know each other and spend some
quality time. The relationship between Ray and Robyn never seems
forced, and actors Joaquin Phoenix and Anna Paquin share some
good chemistry. Phoenix proves he's a solid actor, making Ray
Elwood somewhat sympathetic even though he doesn't deserve it.
The role of Commander Berman is filled by Ed Harris who does a
decent job with the underdeveloped character. Scott Glenn plays
the hardcore Sergeant well, but that's about it. Also making an
appearance is Dean Stockwell as a high-ranking Army official and
Elizabeth McGovern as Berman's cheating wife. Last but not
least, Robinson, Pena and Gabriel Mann, who plays Ray's
roommate, do a pretty good job in their respective supporting
There are some elements in
Buffalo Soldiers that are reminiscent of M*A*S*H in
both content and execution. This occurrence is both welcome and
enjoyable, giving the film a certain comedic edge. Adding to
that edge and giving the film some punch is David Holmes' slick
score. I liked his music in Ocean's 11 a lot, and he
composes cool tunes here as well. Gregor Jordan does a very good
job of keeping the comedy in balance with some of the drama. He
and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton shoot the film quite well
considering the $15 million budget. As I indicated earlier, the
script is well-written, yet I wasn't completely satisfied by the
last 15-20 minutes. There is a twist I didn't see coming, and it
disrupts a very nice moment. The ending is kind of ironic and
funny, but a little too fast. Overall, Buffalo Soldiers
is consistent and tells a story worth following.
Buffalo Soldiers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors
look adequate and clear, but not incredibly bright. They are
well-saturated however, and sharpness appears in good shape.
Detail looks good also. But overall the film's palette is not
that bright or vivid, yet that's mostly due to the weather conditions in Germany.
I don't think it was ever really sunny. Dark tones and black levels are
mostly solid. The print image is fairly clean with only one or
two specks and a few areas of grain during the nighttime scenes.
Overall, an accurate and pretty decent video presentation.
Buffalo Soldiers in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround
Sound. There is not a lot of reinforcement present in this
soundtrack, but the surrounds come alive a few times. Rear
speakers do a fairly good job of emitting sound effects with
much clarity. There isn't much positional audio present in this
soundtrack as most of the audio comes from the front, and
therefore the audio doesn't quite penetrate all of the
soundfield. However, dialogue remains clear and easy to
understand. It's a perfectly fine presentation.
Also available is a French dub track.
The main supplement is the
audio commentary by director Gregor Jordan. He engages in
some interesting discussions about the location in Germany,
actors, characters, reactions to the film, changes to the
script, specific scenes, etc. There are occasional gaps of
silence, and he says "um" quite often. Despite that, Jordan
offers a pretty decent track. Those who like the film should
give it a listen.
Beyond the Iron Curtain
is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the film. It's filled with
interviews with the main cast members describing the film's
premise, and features several clips of both on-set and film
footage. Running only a bit less than five minutes, this piece
is informative only to an extent, and is presented in
Rounding out the extras is the
informative and entertaining Sundance Channel
Anatomy of a Scene (24:19). The focus of this documentary is
the scene with the tank crashing through a German village and
causing the explosion of a gas station. The interviews are with
the major crew members, such as director Jordan, the
cinematographer, editor, production designer, etc. Phoenix
appears only one or two times. The featurette breaks up into a
several parts covering specific aspects of making the scene
work, such as location and cinematography. Overall, this edition
of the Sundance "Anatomy" series is good, but not as good as
others (i.e. The Quiet American). A few promo trailers
are also available.
can select to view the film with optional English and French
subtitles. The 99-minute feature is organized into
sixteen chapters. There is no paper insert.
Buffalo Soldiers is not
very timely considering its subject matter, but it's a funny
film. The story is fun and dangerous at the same time, plus
Phoenix embodies the main character to near perfection.
Video/audio quality is just fine, and the few supplements are
enjoyable. A recommended rental.
(not an average)