Buffalo Soldiers (2001 film)

Buffalo Soldiers is a 2001 American satirical black comedy war 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] The film takes its name from reggae musician Bob Marley's 1983 song, "Buffalo Soldier".

Buffalo Soldiers
Buffalo Soldiers film poster.jpg
Buffalo Soldiers film poster
Directed byGregor Jordan
Written byRobert O'Connor
Eric Weiss
Nora Maccoby
Gregor Jordan
Produced byRainer Grupe
Ariane Moody
StarringJoaquin Phoenix
Ed Harris
Anna Paquin
Scott Glenn
Haluk Bilginer
CinematographyOliver Stapleton
Edited byLee Smith
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • September 2001 (2001-09) (Toronto)
  • July 25, 2003 (2003-07-25) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[1]
Box office$2.3 million[2]


In 1989, U.S. Army Supply Specialist Ray Elwood is a disillusioned soldier stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany. With much spare time, he participates in black marketeering and cooking heroin for some Military Police (MPs) led by the menacing Sergeant Saad. His friendly commanding officer, Colonel Berman, thinks of Elwood as a close friend and has no idea he's stealing company supplies and having an affair with his wife. However, Elwood's uneventful existence changes when a new First Sergeant (“Top”), Robert E. Lee, joins the supply company. Lee is both strict and intimidating, 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 stumbles across the weapons and steals them, hiding them in an abandoned missile base. When confronted by Lee, Elwood's attempt at bribery backfires; Lee subsequently revokes Elwood's privileges, destroys his property, and orders a new, inexperienced and by the book 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 beloved Mercedes-Benz during a weapons exercise. Lee also boobytraps a locker that is used to hide heroin with a grenade that kills Stoney, one of Elwood's friends.

Elwood sells the stolen weapons to a Turkish gangster, 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 sergeant 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 Berman so another regiment can easily capture their positions during a mobilization exercise. Later the colonel reluctantly 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, 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 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 father intends to kill Elwood, something Knoll – as a professional officer – cannot allow. Meanwhile Saad, intoxicated by opium fumes, provokes a shootout with commandos sent to arrest everyone in the basement drugs lab. Upstairs, just as Knoll prevents Lee at gunpoint from pushing Elwood out of a top-floor window, the building explodes from a gas leak caused by gunfire. Elwood and Lee are blown out of the building by impact. Elwood strangles Lee with his handcuffs and lands on him, surviving the fall.

In the aftermath, the 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 dull-witted as Berman, that Robyn remains his girlfriend 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.[4] 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][5]


Buffalo Soldiers has a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 115 reviews with an average score of 6.55 out of 10. The consensus states "Overall, this caustic comedy hits more of its targets than it misses."[6] The film also has a score of 56 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 35 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[7]


  1. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers (2003)". The Numbers. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  2. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Scott, A. O. (July 25, 2003). "Film Review; A Portrait of the Army, but Few Heroes in Sight". The New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  4. ^ "26th Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Three". Digital Hit. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  7. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers". Metacritic. Retrieved July 11, 2020.

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