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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 1989 and almost the end of the Cold War in Europe. U.S. Army Supply Specialist Ray Elwood is a bored soldier stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany. With little to do, he devotes his time to black marketeering and cooking heroin for some Military Police led by the sadistic Sergeant Saad. His amiable commanding officer, Colonel Berman, thinks of Elwood as a confidant and has no idea he's stealing company supplies or sleeping with his wife. However, Elwood's easy-going life changes when a new First Sergeant, Robert E. Lee joins the supply company. The new Top is both menacing and savvy, quickly determining that Elwood and his squad are engaged in graft.

A tank crew, under the influence of the heroin that Elwood cooked for the MPs, 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 an unused 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 to bunk in his room. To get back at Lee, Elwood begins a sexual relationship with his daughter, Robyn. The Top retaliates by making Elwood destroy his expensive BMW during a weapons exercise. Lee also booby traps a locker (that is used to hide heroin) with a grenade killing Stoney, one of Elwood's friends.

Elwood sells the stolen weapons to a Turkish gangster, reluctantly accepting a large amount of raw opium as payment. However, to save Knoll from being killed by Saad in a fight, Elwood is forced to make the MP Sgt a business partner in cooking the opium. In order to get the weapons out of the missile base and collect the drugs, Elwood sells out Col Berman so another regiment can easily capture their positions during a mobilization exercise. Later the colonel wistfully tells Elwood he has been dismissed from command but this has given him time to reflect - he'll leave the army and buy a vineyard in California.

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 the MPs. Knoll and Lee then arrive. It's then Elwood discovers Knoll is actually an undercover 2nd Lieutenant from the Inspector General's Office. While Knoll escorts Robyn away, she tells him her dad intends 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 in the basement drugs lab. Upstairs, just as Knoll stops Lee at gunpoint from throwing Elwood from a top-floor window, the building explodes from a gas leak caused by gunfire. Elwood falls to the ground with his handcuffs around Lee's neck. He survives by landing on Lee, who is killed.

In the aftermath, the US Army posthumously awards Lee a Silver Star, and also decorate Elwood, who is transferred 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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