Buffalo Soldiers

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"War is hell... but peace is f*#!%!! boring."
  • R
  • 2001
  • 1 hr 38 min
  • 6.7  (25,246)
  • 56

Buffalo Soldiers is a 2001 movie that tells the story of a group of U.S. Army soldiers stationed in West Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The film, directed by Gregor Jordan and based on the eponymous novel by Robert O'Connor, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Ray Elwood, a bored and cynical soldier who runs a black market operation on the military base, Anna Paquin as Robyn Lee, a teenage daughter of a higher-ranking officer whom Ray becomes involved with, and Ed Harris as Colonel Berman, Ray's commanding officer and arch-nemesis.

The movie opens with Ray narrating his daily routine on the base, which involves stealing Army supplies, selling them to the highest bidder, and using the profits to buy drugs and prostitutes. His fellow soldiers, who have names like Stoney, Berlin, Garcia, and Knoll, either participate in his schemes or turn a blind eye to them. Ray is not interested in the military life or politics, but he is good at his criminal activities and considers himself untouchable. However, his world is about to be disrupted by two events: the arrival of a new top sergeant, Robert E. Lee (played by Scott Glenn), who is determined to put an end to corruption and maintain discipline among the troops, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which signals the end of the Cold War and the need for the military presence in Germany.

At first, Ray tries to avoid confrontation with Lee by hiding his contraband and acting compliant. However, Lee quickly sees through his facade and puts him in charge of a hapless group of soldiers who are tasked with maintaining a missile range in the middle of nowhere. Ray sees this as a demotion and an insult, but he decides to make the best of it by resuming his illicit activities with his new underlings, who are even more gullible than his previous acquaintances. He teaches them how to steal, gamble, and party like there's no tomorrow, while dreaming of his escape to Amsterdam with Robyn, whom he courts by promising her a life of freedom and luxury. However, his plans are jeopardized by Colonel Berman, who becomes suspicious of Ray's behavior and launches an investigation into his illegal dealings.

As the plot thickens, Buffalo Soldiers explores several themes that are relevant to its setting and time period. One of them is the clash between the official narrative of the military and the reality of its soldiers, who are often burdened with boredom, frustration, and loneliness in their foreign postings. Ray represents the disillusionment and cynicism of a generation of soldiers who have grown up in the shadow of the Vietnam War and see themselves as pawns in a geopolitical game that they cannot comprehend. His black market operation is not just a means of profit, but also a form of rebellion against the system that oppresses him and his peers. He rationalizes his actions by saying that he is only doing what everyone else does, and that the Army owes him for his service.

Another theme is the cultural clash between the Americans and the Germans, who are portrayed as both fascinated and repelled by each other. Ray and his comrades see Germany as a land of beer, babes, and bargains, and treat the locals with a mixture of condescension and amusement. They exploit their ignorance of the language and customs to swindle them and fornicate with their women. However, they are also fascinated by the history and beauty of the country, and by the changes that are happening around them. The fall of the Berlin Wall represents not just the end of an era, but also the birth of new possibilities and uncertainties. Ray and Robyn's relationship is both a romantic and a cultural exchange, as they try to bridge their ideological and generational gaps.

A third theme is the power struggle between the soldiers themselves, who are divided along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Ray's group is composed of misfits and outcasts who come from different backgrounds but share a common bond of rebellion and escapism. However, their unity is constantly tested by jealousy, envy, and suspicion, as they compete for his favor and attention. The arrival of new soldiers from the States, especially the naive and idealistic Knoll, creates a clash of values and personalities that threatens to tear the group apart.

Overall, Buffalo Soldiers is a darkly humorous and satirical movie that skewers the military culture of the late Cold War era and the absurdities of the American presence in Europe. Its characters are flawed and human, and its storyline is both entertaining and thought-provoking. While it may not be a perfect movie, it is a worthwhile experience for anyone who is interested in the history and sociology of the U.S. Army and its place in the world.

Buffalo Soldiers is a 2001 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 38 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.7 and a MetaScore of 56.

Buffalo Soldiers
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 38 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.7  (25,246)
  • Metascore