A very weak Altman film, all the weaker because it came out the year after one of Altman's best works: "Nashville." "Buffalo Bill..." is one of the most savagely satiric films from a director known for savage satire. Unfortunately, it's also a one-joke film, whose joke is given away in the first five minutes, leaving the film nowhere to go. Paul Newman plays Buffalo Bill as a complete buffoon, surrounded by yes-men and lackeys. He practically buys ex-Indian chief Sitting Bull for his Wild West show, and what we suffer through is scene after scene of white men making asses of themselves while native American Indians nobly and quietly observe and judge them. It's two hours of smug finger pointing at oblivious Caucasians for raping and pillaging the American frontier.
All of Altman's films have the feel of coming together in the editing room, and many times this approach to structure results in inspired moments, but "Buffalo Bill" feels even more than usual like a film without a center. There's no narrative thread to hold it together, so it has a wandering and monotonous quality. Also, it doesn't help that Altman's shooting style is uncharacteristically distant. There are virtually no close-ups in the entire picture, so scene after scene is photographed in medium and long shots. Both the screenplay and the camera keep us at a distance; as a result, we never become engaged in the action.
A definitive misfire.
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