The Post-9/11 Climate Helped Turn The Satirical ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ Into A Flop

Kevin Gosztola
7 min readSep 18, 2021

[Editor’s Note: This is the second in The Dissenter’s weekly series on 9/11 and its impact on cinema, which will be published as a companion to our series, “Twenty Years In A Security State.”]

“After September 11, 2001, as American soldiers went into battle in Afghanistan and then Iraq, it must have been hard to imagine the public embracing a scabrous anti-military satire,” New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote in his review of “Buffalo Soldiers.”

The film was released on July 25, 2003, after distribution was postponed four times by Miramax following the September 11th attacks.

“Buffalo Soldiers” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2001. It starred Joaquin Phoenix, Anna Paquin, and Ed Harris. It was Australian director Gregor Jordan’s second film. It had an estimated $15 million budget and barely grossed $2 million worldwide, making it a flop.

It was an adaptation of Robert O’Connor’s 1993 novel on the U.S. Army when hundreds of thousands of troops were stationed in West Germany, just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Scott’s deduction reflected the conformity that marked the years immediately following 9/11. “With United States forces still very much in harm’s way in Iraq, now might not be such a great time either,” he added.

Media coverage of the release naturally focused on the delay of the release, but it also fueled a backlash against the film for presenting a “war is hell” narrative.

Ray Elwood (Phoenix) is a battalion clerk at the Theodore Roosevelt U.S. Army Base in Stuttgart, West Germany in October 1989. He was caught stealing a car, and the judge gave him an option: go to prison for six months or join the Army for three years. He made the “mistake” of joining the Army.

“Peace is fucking boring,” Elwood declares. He deals heroin, and when he has an opportunity to go to the next level and sell a cache of US weapons for money, he pursues a deal.

Meanwhile, after Sergeant Lee (Scott Glenn), a psychopathic Vietnam War veteran, assumes command as the battalion’s top sergeant, he becomes Elwood’s worst enemy. Lee ends the cushy life Elwood has created for…