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Film / Buffalo Soldiers

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Buffalo Soldiers is a 2001 American satirical war film directed by Gregor Jordan, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin, Gabriel Mann, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Peña, Dean Stockwell, and Ed Harris.

Ray Elwood (Phoenix) is a soldier stationed at a US Army base in 1989 Germany. With no war to fight, he and his fellow grunts spend their time engaging in the drug trade and other illegal activities to pass the time. When Elwood encounters a large supply of military-grade weapons whose owners were killed in a bizarre tank accident, he steals and tries to sell the weapons. His cozy life on the base becomes more difficult when he's confronted by Robert Lee (Glenn), a by-the-book sergeant who immediately takes a dislike to Elwood.

This film provides examples of:

  • Armed Farces: The movie is a satirical comedy where a bunch of bored soldiers stationed in West Germany near the end of the Cold War pass their time by manufacturing drugs.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking : When Berman reads the coroner's report :
    Berman: Heroin, cocaine, marijuana, lysergic acid, deithyl... whatever the hell it is, amphetamines, traces of barbiturates, estrogen... Estrogen ??
  • Badass Boast: Sergeant Lee gets Elwood's buddy Stoney to back down. An interesting variant because Lee acknowledges that Stoney is also a badass. Just not as badass as he is.
    Stoney: You and me can step outside right now.
    Lee: Whoa. You think you can take me?...
    Elwood: Uh-oh, customers.
    Lee: Yeah, maybe. Straight up, hand-to-hand, you got a shot. Maybe. But maybe I wear a blade. Maybe I got a .45 cocked and locked to shove up your ass. You ain't considered that, have you?
  • Bribe Backfire: Elwood tries to bribe his new hardass superior Sergeant Lee by offering him a brand new television set. Lee responds to his offer by kicking in the screen.
  • Clandestine Chemist: Ray Elwood is baking heroin using supplies provided by the Turk.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Sergeant Lee bluffs his way out of a fight by pointing out he might have a gun or knife.
  • Corrupt Quartermaster: We are introduced to Elwood as he's in the process of back-selling cleaning supplies on the black market. A big part of the plot revolves around him trying to sell a truck full of firearms and weapon systems that went missing, while at the same time Sergeant Lee is trying to crack down on the whole operation.
  • Famous Ancestor: Colonel Berman discovers he's a descendant of Confederate General John Bell Hood, known as "The Iron Boar". His boasting about it doesn't go as he'd imagined.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Robert O'Connor.
  • The General's Daughter: Actually invoked by Elwood, who hooks up with Sergeant Lee's daughter specifically to piss him off despite her warnings that he's gonna kill Elwood. He almost does so in the climax.
  • General Failure: Coloner Berman is an incompetent career officer who clearly only got his rank and post simply by tenure (and even that barely), rather than having any actual skills or abilities. However, his incompetence is catching up with him, and after the disastrous exercises, he's drummed out of the military.
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang:
    • The base's MP is an all-blacks gang of thugs that have dibs on every illicit operation going on and boss around everyone, enforcing Scary Black Man in-universe.
    • Downplayed with the Turk and his Turkish enforcers, befitting the story set in the West Germany in the tail end of the 80s.
  • Here We Go Again!: While the soldiers' drug plant is destroyed in a huge explosion in the end, none of the crimes committed on the base are tied to Elwood and he is reassigned to a base in Hawaii where it's clear that he's up to his usual schemes.
  • Hero Antagonist: Subverted with First Sergeant Lee. He's a hardass career soldier who is going after Elwood, (who is a sleazy criminal cum drug dealer, not to mention a poor excuse for a soldier) but he also proves himself just as petty as Elwood in their competition with each other and quickly crosses the line when he murders Elwood's friend with a hand grenade trap.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: Colonel Berman is a descendant of Confederate General John Bell Hood.
  • Hollywood Science: There's a scene where someone in charge of a large-scale heroin synthesis operation warns that if the solution hits boiling point, dire consequences will occur. Conveniently enough, as we later discover during a dramatic close-up on a thermometer, it boils at exactly 100°C. (Even if it were to hit the actual boiling point of ~270°C, the result wouldn't have been nearly as explosive as shown in the film.)
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: Averted in a nicely self-referential way. The plot revolves around how relatively easy it was to sell off large amounts of weapons stolen from US army bases in Germany. After the Cold War ended and US troops returned home, vast amounts of materiel were left behind. One member of the film crew owned 100 of the appropriate guns to lend the production. Where one character is given a particularly heavy gun to carry on exercises as a punishment, there was some difficulty in sourcing this gun.
  • In Love with the Mark: Ray starts dating Robyn simply to spite Sergeant Lee, but eventually they end up in a genuine relationship.
  • It's Personal:
    • Elwood starts dating Sergeant Lee's daughter, simply to get back on him. It backfires in spectacular fashion, as Lee starts to punish Ray at every given chance, taking very personal offense.
    • Ray himself is taken aback when targeted by Lee, so he starts to further escalate things, creating a vicious cycle of ever-increasing tension.
  • Military Moonshiner: Updated. Ray Elwood doesn't make moonshine; he bakes heroin.
  • Real Men Eat Meat: Defied by the head of the MP at the military base, who is a very manly Scary Black Man who abhors meat. The main character uses this to mess with him by only providing him with nothing but hot-dogs and burgers during a drug cooking session.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: The film centers around a bunch of U.S. soldiers in late 1980s West Germany being bored out of their skulls from the lack of combat. They respond by partying all the time and setting up a drug ring, at least until a hard-ass sergeant arrives to crack them down.
  • Sleeping with the Boss's Wife: Private Elwood is sleeping with his superior Colonel Berman's German wife behind his back. His boss is enough of a dimwit that he never suspects a thing, and still believes that Elwood is a stand-up soldier after he's forced into early retirement as a result of Elwood's machinations.
  • Suspicious Spending: Sgt. Lee quickly catches on to the criminal activities going on in the base when he notices that Pvt. Garcia is wearing a very expensive watch he has no business of having based on his salary.
  • Tropical Epilogue: At the end Pvt. Elwood gets away basically scot-free with his crimes and ends up getting redeployed to a U.S. base in Hawaii where he can continue his schemes.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Elwood apparently had an "arrangement" with his first CO, but when Sergeant Lee takes over the unit he immediately becomes a thorn in Elwood's side because for him the Army is Serious Business. That said, Elwood isn't just lazy or in possession of some contraband but a genuine criminal, making Lee's crusade against Elwood and his associates pretty reasonable.
  • The Vietnam Vet: First Sergeant Lee.
  • War Is Glorious: Discussed. War may be hell, but waiting around as a US soldier on a military base in West Germany with nothing to do is nearly as bad. When one of the soldiers is beaten up for walking on the wrong part of the base, he points out how his father's war friends are the best of friends, how they still meet up every year, even 45 years later (the films is incidentally set against the fall of the wall).