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Buffalo Soldiers
cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin, and Dean Stockwell

director: Gregor Jordan

98 minutes (15) 2003 Pathé VHS rental
Also available to rent on DVD

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) is a company clerk at a US base in Germany. With the Cold War over, there's nothing to fill the time but pointless military exercises, and drink, drugs, and profiteering. Ray spends his time selling army supplies on the black market, with a little drug dealing on the side. When an exercise goes disastrously wrong, two truckloads of weapons fall into Ray's hands, and he trades them for a mammoth quantity of raw heroin. But this time, he may be out of his depth. Not only do the corrupt military police want a piece of the deal, but also a hard-as-nails sergeant (Scott Glenn) has just arrived to clean up the base. Starting a pissing contest with him isn't a great idea - and falling in love with his daughter (Anna Paquin) is even worse...
   Soldiers on H running riot in tanks, selling arms to (probable) terrorists, setting up drugs factories on army property - you can imagine how well Buffalo Soldiers went down in post-9/11 America. It's a pity, because this hard-hitting satire has a lot to offer, both as entertainment and as political comment. None of the characters here are exactly admirable, which some viewers have found off-putting, but strong performances expose their human foibles. Phoenix makes Ray just barely sympathetic, and even strangely innocent, despite the appalling things he becomes involved in, and Scott Glenn has the time of his life as the vindictive sergeant, who's just as happy to break the law in pursuit of what he wants as Ray is. Ed Harris has a great role as Ray's vague, hen-pecked superior officer, stranded in the wrong career, his every attempt to win promotion doomed to spectacular failure.
   But it's the sheer audacity of the soldiers' exploits, drug-fuelled or deliberately criminal, that stick in the mind. Whether it's covering up an accidental death or seizing control of the refining operation from the malicious MPs, Ray has an ingenious plan for everything. Like the hero of any good satire, we may not like him, but we have to admire him. Buffalo Soldiers is the perfect viewing for anyone who's ever suspected that maintaining a large military in peacetime is just asking for trouble - and for anyone else, it's just terrific, if faintly guilty, amusement.
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