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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Buffalo Soldiers
Buffalo Soldiers
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // January 13, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Shannon Nutt | posted February 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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THE MOVIE

A comparison to Pulp Fiction is mentioned not once, but twice, on the back box cover of Buffalo Soldiers, and while other critics have hailed this movie as a dark comedy in the Tarantino tradition, I found the movie to be more drama than comedy – and I still don't see any similarities to Pulp Fiction, either in style or tone.

Anyway, the only thing that got me through Buffalo Soldiers is the fact that it has some very good actors in it. The story focuses on Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) who has joined the military after getting in some trouble with the law and being given the choice of serving time or serving Uncle Sam. He's station in West Germany shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall (the movie is set in 1989) and to pass the time, he has become a black market dealer to the German underworld – selling them everything from government Mop N' Glow to munitions.

Elwood is able to get away with this because his commander (played by Ed Harris) is unsure of himself and his leadership skills – which Elwood uses to his advantage to basically do what he wants to on base. All that changes however, when a new Sergeant (played by Scott Glenn in the best performance in this film) comes to the base, has some suspicions about Elwood, and immediately butts heads with him. To add to the complication, Sergeant Lee has a beautiful daughter (Anna Paquin) whom Elwood starts dating to get back at the Sergeant – but he soon finds himself attracted to her.

The acting is quite good in this film, but it breaks one of the cardinal rules of making a successful film: there must be someone for the audience to relate to. Not only are all of the characters shady, at best – but there is no one to root for in this movie. One can't back Elwood because his actions are both despicable and borderline on treason; yet Elwood's commanders aren't any better than him, with both Harris' and Glenn's characters being an embarrassment to the military – although on opposite ends of the spectrum.

I'm wondering if this film is only now being marketed as a comedy because anything anti-military in tone might be frowned upon given the current global climate. I think it's much better approached as a drama, with some dark comedic moments here and there. The message this movie wants to convey is that when the military runs out of enemies to fight (i.e. the end of the Cold War) they will turn on each other and create their own war – but by making all of its characters failures to one degree or the other, all that Buffalo Soldiers really accomplishes is portraying the U.S. Military as an army of incompetents.

THE DVD

Video:
The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.35:1 ratio. The transfer here is average to slightly above-average, with some hints of dirt on the print and a lack of overall sharpness – but still pretty good for a release of a lesser-know film.

Audio:
Presented in Dolby 5.1, the audio is solid, but not particularly aggressive. This is one of those average tracks that don't necessarily impress, but are good enough that you're not distracted by any noticeable flaws.

Extras:
The most interesting extra here is the Commentary Track by director Gregor Jordan. He does a good job of telling us about how the movie was filmed and staying screen-specific, without falling into the trap of merely describing what we are seeing on our screens.

Also included are two behind the scenes featurettes – one entitled Beyond The Iron Curtain, and Anatomy of a Scene, which originally aired on The Sundance Channel and is a longer behind the scenes look focusing partially on a scene involving a tank early in the movie.

Finally, the DVD contains four Trailers for Daddy & Them, Open Range, My Boss's Daughter and Chump Change.

THE BOTTOM LINE

While it wasn't my cup of tea, there are a lot more notable critics than myself out there who liked Buffalo Soliders. I will say that the acting was well-done in this picture, although I personally felt the overall story was rather weak and failed to capture my interest. So, I'm going to recommend that you rent this one before buying, since the appeal of Buffalo Soliders will vary depending on the viewer.
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