Cinema Signal:

Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries

. "Buffalo Soldiers"

If there's a grain of accuracy in this so-called honest portrait of life and commerce on an American military base, we're in grave trouble. One suspects, however, that there's more deception than truthfulness here, and that the sordidness and depravity is more in the minds of the people who came up with this failed attempt at drama.

In a business decision, distributor Miramax has held back the release of this film for nearly two years, avoiding the backsplash from so unflattering a view of how our army functions on the base level, in the time shadow of September 11th and the two invasions that followed.

No one's saying there aren't opportunists in uniform, but this picture suggests its overriding pervasiveness or immorality that strains credulity while fostering contempt. Instead of the courage of an outside view by an Australian observer, it seems more an exploitative play by an Aussie director (Gregor Jordan) using the shock value of deceit thriving over ineptitude to make a name for himself.

Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) is the man on this West German base who makes things happen in the military world of 1989. He's a soft-spoken supply soldier who knows how to game the system for his own profit. To enhance his potentials, he has ingratiated himself with his superior officer, Colonel Wallace Berman (Ed Harris) whose mental fitness is amply expressed in the way his mind flits from position to position like a mental butterfly, haplessly agreeing to order the 1000 pounds of liquid cleaner that Elwood says is needed.

When we see how willing the German customers are for the product we get the idea of how lucrative the trade is for the craftly operator. But that's the more or less honest trade based on thievery. The real money is in heroin, and our Elwood is the one man in the platoon who knows how to refine the stuff in his cooking pots for the MP dealers he's selling to.

He and his associates are pretty much getting away with murder until Master Sergeant Robert Lee (Scott Glenn) shows up with his adorable daughter Robyn (Anna Paquin). Needless to say, Elwood gets involved with the high diving lady and daddy is fuming more than the heroin pots. In some uncanny way, he has divined what Elwood is up to even before he's offered the bribe of a late model TV to confirm it. Rising to the power he wields as the highest ranking non-com, he takes the steps necessary to bring the man, his spiffy wheels, and the entire clandestine operation down.

One of the troubles with the film is the muddled conflict between the cool, conniving (but really quite sensitive) Elwood and the stiff backed "Master" (the cavalry to the rescue) while keeping the other stereotypes (Harris' colonel-without-a-clue and the military drug dealing gangsters) playing along. The editors must have had a gay time trying to sort out the good and bad sides of the ill-drawn character profiles that tries so hard to inject some dimension to cardboard figures.

It wasn't just September 11th and war fever that made this mess one to keep under the cutting table for so long. It's the sour and dour one-dimensionality of it. It might have played better as an Albert Brooks comedy.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
Rating: 10

I spent many years in the United States Army from the 1960's to the 1990's. Not once did I see anything like what is depicted in the trailers I have seen and the reviews I have read of this film. This piece of cinematic horse manure is nothing more than an anti-American diatribe produced by a German who obviously forgot that it was a large American presence in his country for many years that kept the Eastern Bloc from invading West Germany. This strong American presence ultimately was responsible for the reunification of Germany. What is distressing is the large number of glowing reviews of this film by clueless critics who think it's the best thing since "Ben-Hur." It is nothing more than anti-American propaganda. Josef Goebbels would be proud.

                                                           ~~ Bill 
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and agree with the review

It's not really funny and very amoral. There are no socially redeeming qualities. However it is interesting to watch the roles of the players just for the science of acting.

                                                           ~~ Urbane S. 

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