Buffalo Soldiers
4 out of 5 starsSHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
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army go home Like The Quiet American, this was caught in distribution chaos for years, as everyone feared it might offend American sensibilities with its extremely cutting portrayal of the US Army. And yes, it's pretty scorching stuff! But this is also a black comedy in the tradition of M.A.S.H., which deserves to be seen both for its quality and the extremely important message that needs to be heard right now.

It's 1989 in West Germany, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and at the American military base the soldiers have all become bloated with peacetime laziness. There's no enemy anymore, so they turn their attention to drug running and arms dealing, all of which their clueless colonel (Harris) fails to notice at all. Including the fact that his wife (McGovern) is using the soldiers to meet her own needs. The ringleader of all this is Elwood (Phoenix), who finally gets his comeuppance with the arrival of a new commanding officer (Glenn), whose daughter (Paquin) is just a bit too cute to resist.

Australian writer-director Jordan proved his talent with the terrific Two Hands, and carries on confidently here with an earthy-surreal visual style, sharply observed dialog and a perfect balance between honest grit and social satire. This is a biting, astonishingly accurate look at the worst aspects of American overconfidence, riding roughshod over everyone and everything around. Some may argue that with the world in the state it is, we shouldn't criticise the world's only superpower, but this film makes precisely the opposite argument (and remember, it was made before 11 September 2001!) ... that having only one superpower is perhaps even more dangerous for the planet than the Cold War ever was! And yet, this is also an entertaining black comedy with a sting in its tail. Phoenix is excellent in the Hawkeye role, a wheeler-dealer with an Achilles heel. While it's great to see Harris play against type as the nice-but-dim officer with simple goals and unrealistic ambitions. Yes, it's violent and fractious, and the final coda will require some thought before it makes sense, but this is serious must-see cinema!

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, violence, sex 5.Jun.03

dir-scr Gregor Jordan
with Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin, Elizabeth McGovern, Gabriel Mann, Michael Pena, Leon Robinson, Sheik Mahmud-Bey, Glenn Fitzgerald, Brian Delate, Dean Stockwell
release UK 18.Jul.03; US 25.Jul.03
02/UK 1h45

Yes sir, no sir, whatever: Phoenix and Harris.

phoenix harris paquin
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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