Buffalo Soldiers Reviews
The acting performances are solid all around. Joaquin Phoenix, who was fresh off of an Oscar nomination (his first of two to date) for his villainous role in Gladiator back when this film was originally due for release, isn't quite the standout here that he was in the 2000 Best Picture winner (or more recently in Walk The Line for which he earned the second nomination), but he's still good enough to sell us on Ray Elwood, the somewhat duplicitous but still likable protagonist in this film. His running voice-over commentary, in particular, is laced with just the right amount of scathing commentary and self-deprecation. The more interesting performances belong to Ed Harris (who plays against type as a rather spineless commanding officer) and Scott Glenn (who plays to type as the hard-nosed new commander who comes in to clean things up around the base). Glenn, in particular, is almost frightening with the kind of intensity he radiates as Sergeant Lee. If you wanna cross this guy, you'd better do it right! On the other hand, Harris is far more laid back that were used to seeing from him but he manages to pull of his part as the milquetoast Colonel Berman quite well, which is a testament to his range as an actor. Solid support is provided by Elizabeth Govern as Berman's adulterous wife, the underrated Anna Paquin, who plays Elwood's love interest and Sergeant Lee's daughter, Gabriel Mann who plays Elwood's roommate, and finally Leon and Michael Pena, who play Elwood's partners in crime.
The film's taut pacing is also worth mentioning; at just over an hour and a half, Buffalo Soldiers doesn't come close to wearing out its welcome and it manages to sustain it's momentum for nearly all of the running time. This is not a perfect movie by any means (in particular, the movie does fall prey to some rather unfortunate and easy-to predict "twists" near the end) but overall, it's an above-average comedy-thriller that has the capacity to entertain anyone who's willing to take a chance. It definitely deserves far more attention than it has gotten over the years.
Right out of the gate, the film slips up a bit, not just by having an effect of Joaquin Phoenix falling through the air to give you a good idea of how weak some of the handful of visual effects are in the film, but by having Joaquin Phoenix give us backstory narration, something that I usually think is cool, though typically very conventional. Well, sure enough, while it doesn't feel as amateurly generic as other conventional narrated development segments - mostly because the other films that fall into the convention don't usually have someone as charismatic as Joaquin Phoenix narrating -, that conventional narration style is very much here, and bringing its usual bag of flaws with it. A common misstep that these kind of opening narration have is taking overlong breaks in the narration, making the dives back in rather jarring, which isn't to say that the narration is the only part of the development segment that jars, because the set-ups to the subplots and whatnot fall into place a little too conveniently and suddenly, and with no real build-up to those subplots, it's hard to determine which story is going to stick around or not, leaving the film momentarily convoluted as it dances between its could-stay-or-couldn't-stay subtplots. Still, even after the development segment, the jarring is not yet finished, with all-too sudden shifts in focus, as well as too much dwelling upon the subplot that it does focus on to make the changes more offputting, making the film's focus inconsistent, with the occasional slow spot to provide yet more sprinkles of salt in the wound. Now, the film isn't all over the place, though it is decidedly messy, with an unevenness and conventions, both in storytelling and the general story, itself. However, usual films of this type and of these flaws tend to put in less effort, rarely, if ever to the point of being dropped to a state of total mediocrity, at best, though certainly to a very improvable state. This film, on the other hand, while still quite improvable, delivers, more often than not, with wit and style, particularly when it comes to the writing.
True, the story is a conventional one, as well as one plagued by uneven focus, and yet, it remains interesting, nevertheless. The story is clever and even rather compelling, with layers that may go messily-handled at times, but remain engaging and lively, powered by intrigue, charm and, of course, plenty of sharp humor. Marrying realism with subtle, yet not overly offensive mockery, the film's broad comedic concept of military satire is down-to-earth and clever, while the humor within the humor is snappy and charming, with plenty of sharp shots that leave you chuckling, if not just plain letting a good ol' laugh out. However, come the deeper, darker aspects, the film contradicts the jar in its storytelling and organically incorporates weight and intrigue by not bearing down to hard to drown out the charm slowly, but surely, while incorporating genuine tension. That intrigue is certainly amplified by the performers, all of whom bring plenty of charisma and chemistry, though none of who are given enough dramatic material to really blow you away. However, upon the arrival of that dramatic material, the performers are competent, manipulating the human charm that they placed upon the comedic aspects to give the darker aspects human depth, with Joaquin Phoenix, as expected, standing out the most as our love-him-or-hate-him protagonist, SPC Ray Elwood. With this, and the then-previous year's "Gladiator", Joaquin Phoenix showed that he knew how to play a real dirtbag like nobody's business, and while he's certainly with nearly enough material to blow any self-respecting acting-respecter away like he did in "Gladiator", he still charms, and, come the darker aspects, even impresses dramatically, and thoroughly enough to really carry both our low-down anti-hero protagonist, as well as the film istelf, making the bad in the SPC Elwood character charmingly sting, while making the good feel comfortable and compelling in its sudden incorporation, creating a very human lead that offers further testament to Phoenix's great charisma abilities, if not his dynamic acting abilities.
Overall, the film falls into some of the typical story tropes and flaws of other films of its type, only with a little bit more unevenness in story focus than we're used to seeing, yet it ultimately triumphs in the end, powered by a story that, while conventional, charms during its clever comedic and satirical moments, as well as genuinely engages during the relatively heavier, more intriguing segments, while being made all the sharper by across-the-board charismatic performers, headed by a compelling, when not charismatic anti-heroic lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix, who stands as just one of the several key elements that help in making "Buffalo Soldiers" an entertaining and generally engaging sit.
3/5 - Good
Joaquin Phoenix shows that he can do comedy, as well as drama. Anna Paquin is beautiful and convincing as the love interest. Solid support from Ed Harris (which you would expect), Elizabeth McGovern and Scott Glenn.