Mark Avery’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first time we lay eyes on Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo) it’s as he’s discharged from prison, but not in the way we first see Jake Blues for example or many other characters in movies beginning with this moment of rebirth, no, Billy exits into a stark, snow covered wilderness with nobody there to welcome him other than a frost covered bus bench. This promptly gets used as a place to take refuge and sleep a while. It’s evident from the get-go that Billy is an individual who can survive without any of life’s creature comforts, things that you or I would deem a necessity. The plan is for Billy to visit his parents, and in doing so, bring his wife along with him...the problem being that he doesn’t actually possess one. His solution is a simple one, kidnap a girl (Christina Ricci) and force her to play the role of a doting daughter in law, completely besotted with nothing other than he himself. And so begins our journey into finding out the many ingredients that go into making our Billy boy tick. Using this simple premise we’ll learn the secrets of his upbringing all the way to his current situation.
You won’t like Billy, he appears to treat people with utter disdain, like objects he can control, I mean what vile creature would kidnap an innocent girl and force her to play happy families? We’ve just witnessed him being released from prison remember, and as of yet we don’t know what he was in for. If the situation itself carries an air of slapstick about it, the ensuing dialogue also leans towards humour, but you won’t be laughing yet, your immediate feelings will be ones of concern for the safety of the kidnapped Layla, and the way she is being treated. It’s when we get to meet his parents that the movie starts to elicit more obvious levels of humour, we also begin to learn about the circumstances of his upbringing. Gallo uses very creative ways of not only filming this family reunion, but also to deliver the films exposition. We get snapshots and photographs revealing images of childhood and how Billy himself remembers them. Here is an individual that grew up knowing that he was never really wanted, starved of the love and effection that you or I took for granted. It’s fair to say that Billy has been dealt with some pretty lousy cards in life, how would we have turned out if dealt the same. It’s here that your initial reservations about Billy begin to morph into something else, feelings of sympathy, for here is a character that from birth has had to fend for himself, the seeds of selfishness were sowed early in life, and this tough guy bravado may well be nothing other than a facade, shielding a very insecure and lost individual.
Now these worries for Layla’s safety have been overted, we feel much more in tune with the movie’s overall ambience, and fully at ease with its passages of darkened humour. We no longer question why Layla never appeared to share our initial concerns for her safety following her abduction, she always appeared calm and willing despite being forced to play the role of the dutiful wife, never once looking to escape. In one particular scene Gallo has her tap dance at a bowling alley, complete with spotlight and glittering tap shoes, why is this moment even in this movie? Why did she not try to escape? Why does she agree to everything he suggests, especially when she’s treated so harshly? Because everything Gallo is doing here is unconventional, and by this point we’re also happily going along for the ride too. The more this film continues the more humorous it becomes, one particular scene set in a photo booth will have you howling with laughter. Billy’s bark has been revealed to be far worse than his bite, in fact by now we know he doesn’t really have any bite at all. We now know why he was incarcerated, we now know it’s all bravado. We now know that he has a heart deep within. The film is now free to deliver on the character study it promised from the start. What’s most incredible is how your initial feelings of hatred towards Billy, evolve into ones of complete affection come the end. Yet it achieves this feat quite organically, never once feeling contrived or forced, which is a miracle considering the movies rather unconventional ways of telling its story.
This was my first introduction into the works of Vincent Gallo, and it’s fair to say that I’m incredibly impressed. Buffalo ‘66 is one of those rare movies where I don’t believe I would change a single thing, I agree with every artistic decision he’s made. It carries this grimy aesthetic throughout, yet this services the movies almost seedy shenanigans and characters perfectly, its visual style reminded me at times of the work of John Cassavetes. The humour is subtle enough to almost go by unnoticed, yet promises to prove ever more rewarding and obvious with subsequent rewatches. I’m convinced that Robert Pattinson’s character in the Safdie Brothers movie Good Time was in some small way influenced by Gallo’s Billy Brown. I also think that Darren Aronofsky took influence from Gallo’s visual choices when dealing with exposition for Requiem for a Dream. I absolutely adore this movie, and Billy Brown particularly. I know I’ll be revisiting this for the rest of my life. A quite astonishing debut!