For Australian writer-director Gregor Jordan, “Buffalo Soldiers” has been both a fulfilling and a frustrating experience: making it was fulfilling, but waiting for it to be released was more than a little frustrating. He shot the film–his second, following 1999’s “Two Hands,” an edgy crime comedy that introduced Heath Ledger–more than two years ago, but it’s opening only now. (Jordan has actually finished a third picture, “Ned Kelly,” in the meanwhile.) The reason for the delay is traceable to the fact that a dark satire about the American military–and the picture is one of the darkest–suddenly became a hot potato after September 11, 2001.

“Buffalo Soldiers,” based on a novel by Robert O’Connor about boredom, chicanery and violence among American forces stationed in Germany in the late 1980s, is a cousin to movies like “Stalag 17,” “M.A.S.H.,” “Catch-22” and “Dr. Strangelove.” It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 8, 2001, three days prior to the World Trade Center disaster, and was well received. “We actually signed the [distribution] deal on September 10, so the timing was just bizarre,” Jordan recalled in a recent Dallas interview. “And the delay [in the release] has definitely been partly attributable to September 11 and the subsequent political climate. Working out the time when people would be most receptive to the film, given the political environment, was important.” The decision was ultimately one in which Jordan worked closely with the executives of Miramax Films, which had purchased the distribution rights; it involved several scratched dates and additional postponements as a result of either crowded release schedules or military action. “It was a real collaboration,” he said. “They [Miramax] were terrific, actually.”

If arranging for “Buffalo Soldiers” to open was difficult, making it had been challenging but satisfying too. Producer Rainer Grupe had owned rights to the novel for a while, but his many attempts to turn it into a workable screenplay had failed. “The book was a lot darker than the film,” Jordan said in explaining the changes he would eventually make after coming on board. It was also, as he put it, “unstructured. I knew there was really a good movie in there somewhere, but it took me a while to work it out.” Most importantly, the protagonist, Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), became in his reworking kind of a charming scoundrel–“I guess there’s something about someone who bucks the system that’s part of the tradition,” Jordan said, “and that kind of character can get admired, although in this instance the character is sort of taken to an extreme, so hopefully you sort of admire his audacity but don’t necessarily agree with what he’s doing”–in contrast to the book, where Elwood had been “a real nasty piece of work.” And Jordan contrasted Ray with his likable but obtuse commanding officer Colonel Berman–“the only character in the film who’s just a nice guy–it makes the point that nice guys have no place in the army,” Jordan joked. Ed Harris “cast himself” against type in that part, the director recalled with pleasure, having been first approached to play the tough, menacing Sergeant Lee. Scott Glenn then joined the cast as Lee, who becomes Elwood’s nemesis, and Anna Paquin and Elizabeth McGovern took roles as Lee’s daughter, whom Ray romances partly to bait her father, and Berman’s ambitious wife, with whom Elwood has a continuing affair. The shoot, mostly on a deserted army base bear Karlsruhe, went smoothly. Given the fact that the army didn’t assist in making the picture, German tanks were substituted, with appropriate changes in markings, for American ones but, Jordan noted, “The US army is more than Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks,” and “a lot of [soldiers] actually worked on the film” as advisors and extras. He mentioned in particular the guys in a squad that makes a big drug bust late in the plot. “They were all US Army Rangers,” Jordan said. “They were actually the second team. The first bunch that we had, the day before they were to come out and shoot, they got called up on a Special Ops. So we got a whole bunch of other guys.”

Now that “Buffalo Soldiers” is finally being released–complete with a poster featuring Joaquin Phoenix showing the peace sign in front of an American flag with dollar signs for the stars–negative reaction has been swift and strong. Though Jordan noted that while many veterans have applauded the picture (“They don’t get offended–that’s what it was like, and [they say] it’s fascinating and amazing to see it up there on the screen”), some civilians have been “confrontational” and “antagonistic” about it. He mentioned a Houston radio interviewer who’d called the picture “despicable” even though he hadn’t seen it, and referred to Jordan as “an arrogant Australian who should go back to Australia.” Jordan’s reaction? “I’m sorry, but everything in the film is real–I’ve got Pentagon documents to back it up. It is a work of fiction, but if anything what you see in the movie is a toned-down version of what happened.”

The response didn’t soothe the angry interviewer, though, and it’s views like his that lead Jordan to wonder about the atmosphere that prevails in America nowadays and makes the future of his film so uncertain. “You’re not allowed to criticize, you’re not allowed even to question what’s going on,” he said. “I think it’s kind of hypocritical that in a time when democracy should be held dear and all the military campaigns are focused on protecting democracy or even furthering democracy, they’re actually in the process advocating doing away with freedom of speech and freedom of expression….[This movie] was made in a time before there was such a thing as September 11. And when I was making the film, no one batted an eyelid at that type of depiction of the military. [To] people who stand up and criticize the movie and say it’s unpatriotic or anti-American or whatever, I say hang on a second. The movie was made in a different time, so if you’re taking offense at it, it actually says more about you than it does about the movie.”

After his long wait for “Buffalo Soldiers” to be shown, Gregor Jordan will soon know whether viewers agree with him.