After spending 5 years in prison, for a crime he did not commit, Billy Brown finds himself out of place in the real world. So intimidating is this new found Independence to him that he asks the prison guards to let him in again so that he may use the prison facilities to relieve himself. On being denied entry he reluctantly boards the bus and goes to the city where his first contact with people is stiff, confused and erratic. Buffalo '66 introduces Billy to us when he's at his all time low. Prison has weakened him, he appears to be helpless and forsaken, someone who can't even find a place to piss.
Billy's parents have no idea that Billy has been in prison. Their communication has been limited to the letters that he wrote from jail in which he made up a happy story about being married,very busy with work and in general living a good life. However once out of prison Billy has no idea how to reconcile his truth with the one he has made his parents to believe. In a desperate move he abducts Layla from a dance class and forces her pose as his wife for a day.
The interaction between Billy and Layla forms the majority of the movie. Even though she's being forced to play the part of Billy's wife she's quite willing to help him out. At the family reunion she manages to make a favorable impression on his parents so much so that the meeting becomes all about her, much to the annoyance of Billy. As Billy later points out she was supposed to make him look good. Unfortunately that was an impossible task for anyone, let alone Layla. Billy's family was, well, difficult. Within the first few scenes of introduction it was not hard to see why he avoided them so much. The greetings were sour, the hugs were awkward. Billy was treated like an outsider.They couldn't tolerate each others company even for a meal.
As the story progresses Billy's true motives are revealed. In a misplaced sense of vengeance Billy wants to kill the football star who failed to score at the crucial moment causing him to loose the bet. New characters are introduced and it becomes apparent that Billy did not keep the best of companies. His friend, though good at heart, is stupid and his bookie is a menacing personality who forces him to falsely admit to a crime on behalf of someone he owed a favor, just because Billy could not pay the money he lost on the bet.
Billy's ancient history is troubled too. A cruel (one sided) love affair, an unhealthy childhood and bad memories that could not be forgotten. Amid all these troubles is Billy's love for bowling. Coming back after 5 years of break, he rakes up strike after strike on every attempt and for the first time the viewer get's a glimpse of enthusiasm and positivity in Billy. Even Layla is surprised at this new character revelation.
Buffalo '66 is a movie of contradictions. Although the story explores the themes of abduction, murder and family troubles it still manages to keep the narrative light and funny that beautifully contrasts some its darker tones.The characters have a tendency to defy the expectations of the viewer. Billy the abductor is a tormented soul under his appearance of bravado. He wants to portray an image of self control an authority but he's indecisive and confused most of the time. On the other hand Layla the abductee is calm,composed, in control of herself, helpful and kind. Billy's father gets irritated quite easily, is always in a bad mood, likes to sing and when he does he transforms into a resplendent embodiment of joy and goodness. Billy's mother who appears to love her son is not all that fond of him and infact secretly bears a grudge against him for being born on the day of big league match causing her to miss it.
The only flaw I can find in this movie is that there are no actual buffaloes involved. I would have appreciated if there were a couple of cameos of my second favorite animal*. I believe it would have been a nice touch, I mean to say, to feature a buffalo doing it's usual thing. You know mooing, grazing, wagging it's tail and perhaps most importantly contributing to the national manure production. There could have been a close up of it's glaring eyes and intimidating horns for a bit of a dramatic effect. Or maybe the scene could have been educational in nature showcasing the exceptionally milky productive prowess of the bovine. But one can't always get what one wants.
Buffalo '66 is a classic. Even without the actual buffaloes.
-Akshat Jiwan Sharma
* Second only to the cows. I love me some milky animals!