starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris and Anna Paquin
3 1/2 stars
"Peace? Peace is fuckin' *boring*."
I don't know if Buffalo Soldiers is a good movie, but there's just something perversely satisfying about seeing an American tank running over a VW Beetle with an anarchy symbol spray-painted on the side.
And when the utterly stoned tank crew drives over a gas station and causes a huge explosion that kills two other soldiers before woozily shaking their heads and crashing off through the woods, flames still flickering on the armor, we can't help but feel we're seeing a pretty funny-cuz-it's-true picture of the US military in action.
Buffalo Soldiers is like the opposite of the typical candy-coated picture of US military honor you'd see in movies like Behind Enemy Lines or Pearl Harbor in which brave boys and men do good under tough circumstances, making their mommas proud. No, Buffalo Soldiers is a salt-coated show where everybody in a uniform is a criminal or a junkie or a murderer or some fun combination of all three. Not many movies are willing to paint the entire US Army as corrupt and incompetent from top to bottom, so in that if nothing else Buffalo Soldiers feels kinda refreshing.
The film is set on a US Army base in West Germany in 1989, so we've got a bunch of big, violence-prone, pumped-up Cold Warriors with nobody to fight and nothing to do except fuck things up, which they get right on, starting off with a friendly little football game if by friendly you mean angry, snarling, aggressive and lethal.
These guys are bad soldiers, bad soldiers in the way that the Bad Lieutenant was a bad lieutenant, particularly falling down in their "not selling base supplies on the black market" and "not running a huge heroin cooking operation" duties. The main brain of the operation is base clerk Roy Elwood, played sneakily by Joaquin Phoenix (the sneaky emperor in Gladiator). He runs a pretty good set of black market scams and, whoa! is he ever lucky when he comes across two trucks full of weapons. That's gonna buy a lotta heroin.
Unfortunately, his shenanigans have also attracted the attentions of the extremely hardass new Sergeant Lee, played with fuckin' iron by Scott Glenn. Since cocky Joaquin knows Scott Glenn's on his ass anyway, he decides to mess with Scott Glen's mind by boning his daughter, Anna Paquin.
And from there follows an object lesson in how, if you fuck around with things because you're bored and have nothing to do, there's a good chance you're going to get the living bejeezus kicked out of you by people who are way, way more serious about those things than you are.
If there's a big reason to see this movie, it's Scott Glenn, who is absolutely from the first second you see him not a guy you want to fuck around with, *at all*. After his first scene with Joaquin, we know that Joaquin is in big, big, big, *serious* trouble, even if Joaquin doesn't. Other characters remark repeatedly on how Scott Glenn shouldn't be fucked around with, and we believe it. Every scene he's in crackles, and most of the time, he's barely doing anything. He's a *real* military guy in a military filled with goof-offs and morons and sneaky little small-time punks, so all of their little crimey games kinda fall apart once Scott Glenn brings the hammer down.
It's true, the film passes up lots of opportunities to dig deeper and say stronger things about the nature of the US military and its place in the world, but it's interesting to see crime and the military fused so completely in a movie. There's nothing respectful towards the military here, so if you find yourself in the mood for a movie that's a big Fuck You to Supportin' the Troops, this is definitely the one to see.