Eye For Film >> Movies >> Buffalo Boys (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
As filmmaking becomes more affordable in real terms (for all that it's getting harder to turn a profit), more and more small countries are seeing the stories of their cultural heroes and resistance movements told on the big screen. Buffalo Boys centres on resistance to the Dutch occupation of Java in the 19th Century. Like many films of its ilk, it assumes a degree of background knowledge and concomitant enthusiasm in its audience, and doesn't work as hard as it otherwise might to generate thrills. The narrative is fairly predictable and makes extensive use of well established western tropes but there's still an enjoyable adventure at its core.
Perhaps enjoyable isn't the right word for all of it. It begins by establishing the villainous character of the colonialists, and does so both bluntly and brutally. Though the viciousness of the regime is rooted in well-established history, this is one of those cases where heavy-handedness threatens to discourage viewers from taking events seriously - or would, were it not for a chilling performance by Reinout Bussemaker as Van Trach, the island's governor. What colonials of all nationalities most famously feared was boredom, and boredom coupled with power is dangerous. Van Trach alleviates tedium with cruelty which he compulsively takes to extremes as if trying to recover the thrill of the first time. His lieutenants, meanwhile, find their thrills with local women, little caring about consent, and it's this behaviour that propels events towards a showdown.
Standing up for the oppressed are brothers Jamar (Aro Bayu as the quiet, brooding one) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso as the more glamorous, energetic one). They have a personal reason for revenge due to the murder of their father and they're furious that villagers are being forced to grow profitable opium instead of the rice they need to survive. Raised in the US, they haven't had their spirits crushed like most of those around them. The bad guys mock them as cowboys who, in this environment, have no horses. Instead they are buffalo boys - but though Indonesian buffalo are smaller and slightly less aggressive than their North American relatives, watching a man ride one is still not something that leaves one thinking of him as a weakling.
From the start, it's clear that Jamar and Suwo are a force to be reckoned with. They're brave. They're determined. They know all the poses from classic westerns and they're also pretty handy wit guns. So is local rebel Kiona (Pevita Pearce) but she gets increasingly sidelined once the men are n the scene - it's a shame because it not only implies that women can't really be good enough for this sort of thing but seems to belittle the ability of Javans as a whole to rise to the challenge without the benefit of some outside influence. Pretty much every other local we meet is meek and despairing - we are invited to sympathise with their suffering rather than to respect them as people.
Bussemaker's work aside, the film as it its most impressive during the action sequences and, thankfully, it doesn't skimp on these. There are plenty of dangerous missions, daring rescues and desperate stand-offs, all energetically presented and attractively shot. Bayu and Sudarso are not so strong on drama but know their stuff when it comes to looking like heroes and this is what's likely to matter most to local audiences as well as helping the film to get noticed internationally.
Finally, credit needs to go to the production team for creating a polished, Hollywood quality film on a tiny fraction of the budget and without anything like that level of supporting infrastructure. One is left wondering what they might achieve with more backing.Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2019