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Buffalo Soldiers is a 2001 satire film, based on the 1993 novel by Robert O'Connor,[3] which follows the rogue activities of a group of US soldiers based in West Germany during 1989 when the fall of the Berlin Wall is imminent. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Anna Paquin, Haluk Bilginer, Scott Glenn, and Elizabeth McGovern and is directed by Gregor Jordan.[3]

Buffalo Soldiers
Buffalo Soldiers film poster.jpg
Buffalo Soldiers film poster
Directed byGregor Jordan
Produced byRainer Grupe
Ariane Moody
Written byRobert O'Connor
Eric Weiss
Nora Maccoby
Gregor Jordan
StarringJoaquin Phoenix
Ed Harris
Anna Paquin
Scott Glenn
Haluk Bilginer
CinematographyOliver Stapleton
Edited byLee Smith
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
September 2001 (2001 Toronto International Film Festival)
July 25, 2003 (theatrical release)
Running time
98 minutes
Budget$15 million[1]
Box office$2,300,684[2]



It is almost the end of the Cold War in Europe. Specialist Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix) is a U.S. Army soldier stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany, in 1989. He devotes much of his time to dealing on the black market and cooking heroin for a group of drug-dealing Military Police led by the sadistic Sergeant Saad. As a supply specialist, Elwood poses as a model soldier and friendly confidant to his amiable commanding officer, Colonel Berman (Ed Harris). Berman has no idea what supplies his subordinate is requisitioning or that Elwood is sleeping with his wife (Elizabeth McGovern). But things change when a new First Sergeant, Robert E. Lee (Scott Glenn) joins Elwood's supply company. The new Top is both menacing and savvy, quickly assessing that Elwood and his squad are engaged in graft.

A tank crew, under the influence of Elwood's heroin, unintentionally kill two soldiers in charge of a weapons convoy by crashing through a gas station. Elwood happens upon the cache and steals it, hiding the weapons in a missile base.

When confronted by Lee, Elwood's attempt at bribery backfires badly. The Top revokes Elwood's privileges, destroys his property, and orders a new, naive and honest soldier, Pfc. Knoll (Gabriel Mann) to bunk in his room. To get back at Lee, Elwood begins a sexual relationship with his daughter, Robyn (Anna Paquin). However, in retaliation the Top makes Elwood destroy his expensive car during a weapons exercise. Lee booby traps a locker some soldiers are using to hide heroin. The grenade kills Stoney, one of Elwood's friends.

Elwood sells the stolen weapons to a Turkish gangster (Haluk Bilginer), reluctantly accepting payment in raw opium. He plans to cook the large amount into heroin. However, after Elwood is forced to save Knoll from being killed by Saad in a fight, he agrees to let the MP Sgt. become a business partner. In order to have time to trade the weapons from the missile base and collect the drugs, Elwood sells out Col. Berman so another regiment can easily capture their positions during a mobilization exercise. Afterwards the colonel wistfully tells Elwood he has been dismissed from command but this has given time to reflect on his future.

On 9 November 1989, the night the Berlin Wall comes down, Elwood sneaks to the base swimming pool to meet Robyn while the opium is being cooked by his squad and Sgt. Saad and his MPs. Knoll and 1st Sgt. Lee then arrive. Elwood discovers Knoll is actually an undercover 2nd Lieutenant from the Inspector General's Office. While Knoll puts Robyn in a car, Lee beats up Elwood. However, Robyn tells Knoll her dad is going to kill Elwood, something Knoll – as an honest officer – cannot allow. Meanwhile Saad, intoxicated by opium fumes, provokes a shoot out with commandos sent to arrest everyone making heroin. Upstairs just as Knoll stops Lee at gunpoint from throwing Elwood from a window, the building containing the drugs lab in the basement explodes because of the gas leak caused by the gunfire. Elwood falls from the window with his handcuffs around Lee's neck. He survives by landing on Lee, who is killed.

The film concludes with heavy irony. The US Army posthumously awards Lee a Silver Star, and decorates Elwood and a transfer to Hawaii. He tells his new superior officer, who is just as naive as Col. Berman, that Robyn remains his sweetheart and she will be visiting soon. The film ends with Elwood submitting a requisition order for more excessive supplies.



Filming took place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Several former US Army bases that had recently been handed back to German control, like the depot at Siegelsbach, were used as locations. The U. S. Army declined to support the film, for that reason army vehicles had to be rented from commercial companies and private collectors.


The world premiere was held at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival in early September. However, being a satire of the US military, the film's wider theatrical run was delayed by approximately two years because of the September 11 attacks. Angry viewers objected to alleged "anti-American" sentiments of the film, deeming it "unpatriotic". At a press conference a woman threw a water bottle at Anna Paquin. By the time the film was eventually released stateside on July 25, 2003, much of the momentum of the film had dissolved, and the positive reviews of the film did not help its reception.[3][4]


Buffalo Soldiers has a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 114 reviews with an average score of 6.5 out of 10. The consensus states "Overall, this caustic comedy hits more of its targets than it misses."[5] The film also has a score of 56 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 35 reviews.[6]


  1. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers (2003) - Box Office Mojo".
  2. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers (2003) - International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  3. ^ a b c Scott, A. O. (July 25, 2003). "Buffalo Soldiers (2001) FILM REVIEW; A Portrait of the Army, but Few Heroes in Sight". The New York Times.
  4. ^ see Scott Laderman/Tim Gruenewald (editors): "Imperial Benevolence: U.S. Foreign Policy and American Popular Culture since 9/11", most of opening chapter "Camouflaging empire", University of California Press 2018)
  5. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers". Rotten Tomatoes.
  6. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers". Metacritic.

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