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Buffalo Soldiers

Programme: Special Presentation
Director: Gregor Jordan
Country: USA/United Kingdom
Year: 2001
Time: 94 minutes
Film Types: Colour/35mm

Production Company: Gorilla Entertainment/Odeon Pictures
Executive Producer: Paul Webster, Reinhard Klooss, James Schamus
Producer: Rainer Grupe, Ariane Moody
Screenplay: Gregor Jordan, Eric Axel Weiss, Nora MacCoby, based on the novel by Robert O'Connor
Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
Editor: Lee Smith
Production Designer: Steven Jones-Evans
Sound: Martin Müller
Music: David Holmes
Principal Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Anna Paquin, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Elizabeth McGovern

Few antecedents to Gregor Jordan’s film about American soldiers based in Germany in 1989 are to be found. Traces of Apocalypse Now and perhaps even Dr. Strangelove are evident, but Buffalo Soldiers is a true original, a devastating drama about a group of soldiers who find themselves in a situation where history is about to make their role redundant even as they play out their selfish acts.

The film places Special Fourth Class soldier Elwood at the centre of the narrative. Cocky, brash and darkly handsome, he is more black marketeer than soldier. Behind his camouflage fatigues, this savvy young man runs an efficient little business that rips off the military system and steers the profits into his pocket. He leads a gang of fellow soldiers who distill drugs which they sell to other GIs, steal army supplies which are then dealt to German middlemen, and generally operate below the radar of the authorities as they conduct their illegal activities. One day they accidentally stumble across a real find: two truckloads of highly sophisticated weaponry worth millions. Payday! All they have to do is unload the stuff as quietly and efficiently as possible. The only fly in the ointment comes with the arrival of a new Top Sergeant, the square-jawed, mean-looking Robert K. Lee. Lee takes one look at the expensive Rolex sported by one of Elwood’s men and begins to kick butt. Elwood takes one look at Lee’s foxy daughter and fights back.

Moving with ease between high drama and scarcely-veiled farce, Buffalo Soldiers paints a disturbing picture of American soldiery, ostensibly on the front lines defending the free world from the Soviet threat. It is a brilliant piece of subversion, undermining any illusions we might have about the military. As Elwood’s commanding officer plots his promotion, unaware of the corrosive activities taking place under his eyes, other battles are fought, battles we identify more with Harlem than Mannheim. Helped by a cast – Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn and Anna Paquin – who are never less than superb, Jordan takes us on a roller-coaster ride that feels as hallucinatory as Willard’s trip up the Congo to find Kurtz.

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