It’s hard to believe that Aussie director Gregor Jordan can finally talk about his second feature film: the anti-war satire, Buffalo Soldiers, which he was able to get made following the success of Two Hands. But its anti-military message made US distributor Miramax nervous, and waited till now to finally release the film.
But Jordan, feeling relaxed in a Los Angeles hotel, was philosophical. “I didn’t want this movie to come out at the wrong time and just let people miss it because they weren’t in the right mood and that was always my greatest fear.” explains Jordan. “I mean, timing a film’s release is critical for any film of any kind, and with the added pressure of the subject matter versus the world events, I knew that special care needed to be taken in releasing this film and so, the delays didn’t really concern me that much, especially due to the fact that I was really busy making another film [Ned Kelly]. I wanted this film to come out at a time when people were fairly receptive to it, so, I think now is possibly the best time ever for the film to come out.”
Set just prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, outside of Stuttgart, West Germany, at Theodore Roosevelt Army Base, the film’s central character is Specialist Ray Elwood of the 317th Supply Battalion (Joaquin Phoenix) who is about to find his own cold war turn white hot. Elwood’s a loveable rogue, a conscript who’s managed to turn his military servitude into a blossoming network of black market deals, more out of boredom than ambition. Officially, there’s his day job as battalion secretary to the inept but caring Commander Wallace Berman (Ed Harris). On the side, there’s everything from selling the locals stolen Mop’N’Glo to cooking heroin for the base’s ruthless head of Military Police, Sgt. Saad. When a new top sergeant (Scott Glenn) arrives, with the avowed intention of cleaning the base up, Elwood thinks the new blood is nothing he can’t handle, especially after he lays eyes on the his daughter, rebellious Robyn (Anna Paquin).
Jordan had no qualms satirically attacking the military, prior to September 11. But a lot has changed since then, which makes Buffalo Soldiers both more pertinent and palatable in today’s climate, though none the less, controversial. “When I made this film, there was no such thing as September 11 and no one was thinking about the army or war at all. The fact that now people are taking offense at what the film is about is quite bizarre and absurd, and which says more about them than it does about the actual film because it wasn’t offensive to anyone before. In fact, when I was trying to get it financed, one reservation that people had was in its depiction of drugs, whereas now people don’t care at all about that. Rather, they’re worried about the critical depiction of the military.”
He adds that Buffalo Soldiers looks at the nature of war and why people want to keep fighting and that war is actually something that goes beyond politics; it’s actually something much more innate, to human beings. That’s really what the film is about and it’s underlined by this idea that soldiers in peacetime really want a war. They’re actually not that interested in the politics of the actual conflict, but rather interested in just getting out there and having a fight. That idea has a touch of resonance now after the whole post-Vietnam era, and then the subsequent fall of the Iron Curtain, when people thought that: Hey, maybe we’re actually going to find peace. The great irony is that the 90’s saw some of the worst atrocities to human history, and in the new millennium the U.S. its allies go to war twice. I think in the present context it’s going to hopefully make people think about the nature of war, conflict and violence.”
In the two years that it has taken for Miramax to release Buffalo Soldiers, Jordan had also completed Ned Kelly, which has already been and gone back in Australia.
“Yeah, that’s strange. I mean it’s weird that you’ve actually have another feature film out there in the world, while you’re still releasing one that happened before.” Jordan calls London home these days, and it is there that he is trying to get his next film off the ground, but publicity is never-ending. Ned Kelly opens in the UK and Europe later this year, which means Jordan still has much to talk about, and that’s even before Kelly opens here in the US. While Ned Kelly remains a controversial figure in Australia, he remains unknown in America, but Jordan is confident American audiences will be interested “because at the end of the day it’s just a really interesting story, with some good actors, and it’s a good looking film. I think it’s just a good movie.”