Kirk’s review published on Letterboxd:
I just want to take a minute to talk about Billy Brown one of cinema's most flawed and sympathetic characters ever. The last paragraph kinda has spoilers I guess, so if you have not seen the film, do not read it.
Buffalo '66 offers an intimate, confrontational and vulnerable portrait of a lonely man who obscures his pain in a veil of hollow and repulsive arrogance. Gallo introduces the central of figure of the film through a childhood photo of Billy Brown at the age of 7 (with his dog Bingo). This image bolsters a poignant emotional significance later in the film when it recurs in the narrative world, but its role in initiating Gallo's masterpiece immediately conveys feelings of nostalgia and innocence. The comfort found in an idealized former life, is shrouded by the melancholic and beautiful song "Lonely Boy," an unforgettable melody of adolescence and sorrow. Altogether the emotions conjured and embraced by the film's opening is contrasted by the character's immediate on screen presence. One of the shots that Vincent Gallo uses to introduce the character of Billy Brown in the cinematic "now," places the character in a moment of vulnerability. Brown has just been discharged from jail, and Gallo cuts to a shot which prominently displays his butt crack. With his skin exposed and susceptible to the bleak climate of Buffalo as well as the scrutiny of the audience, both Brown and Gallo are vulnerable in this moment, creating an unconcealed movement of character building. In addition, while freedom from jail should be a moment of opportunity and redemption, this is not the case for Brown. In fact it immediately creates inconvenience as he is unable to find a restroom and requests to renter the jail to relieve himself. After being denied his request, Brown must overcome his the first obstacle of his new found freedom, finding a washroom. For most people this would be an easy complication to resolve, but Brown's difficulties completing this basic task immediately establishes his helplessness. Furthermore we soon discover that Billy's freedom from jail does pertain to a goal, however his ambition lies in an act of hopeless and nihilistic destruction. Ultimately, these opening shots set the stage for the perfectly for the film.
To refer to Billy Brown (played by director and star of the film Vincent Gallo) as an unlikable character would be a massive understatement. Brown's not just homophobic and misogynistic, he is persistently misanthropic. This is reaffirmed time and time again through delinquent behaviour that is equal parts distasteful, abusive and obnoxious. So why is Billy Brown one of the most sympathetic characters of all time? Well, in stripping away the fragile layers of defence shrouded in his ego, Billy's hostility and dissimulation reveal their true nature of helplessness and alienation. The film places the culpability of Brown's flaws in a childhood devoid of any care, attention or affection, which haunts the character. Just one of the plethora of brilliant stylistic choices Gallo experiments with in the film depicts youthful flashbacks that enlarge onto the foreground of the screen, occupying the same shot as the background. Thus, Gallo creates a parallel existence between the two shots where Brown's subjective perspective is profoundly visualized. In confrontational interactions with his parents, the flashbacks align themselves to contradict statements being made by the parents, such as failing to remember Brown's serve allergy to chocolate. Brown's childhood is portrayed as consisting of emotional neglect, rejection and a general disregard for his very existence, realities which are mirrored in the 'present' interactions between Brown and his parents. Yet, this is not the only heartbreaking element of the flashbacks, as their obtrusive presence on the screen corresponds to the omnipresence of these memories in the character's life, as integral formational moments. For Brown the world is constant reminder of his past pain and suffering, these memories are constantly intruding his psyche mirroring their intrusion of cinematic representation.
Despite his an unhealthy relationship with his parents, Brown is constantly motivated to appease them, in an attempt for some form of renegotiation or acknowledgement. The futility of this objective does not stop him from trying. In an attempt to create another layer of defence Brown supposes a masquerade of accomplishment, where he impersonates the dominant ideal of success in America, a well-paying job and more importantly a family which 'spans' time. Even this 'success' fails to produce the affection he desires, his parents maintain their neglect and rejection. Initially Brown may seem far removed from human emotion to the point of being irredeemable, but the film invalidates this in intimate moments which provide hope for the character in showing his true desire, love in the purest sense. The fictitious nature of his destructive facade is hypersensitive to affect, falsity becomes apparent in the face of the slightest form of emotional distress. In cracking the shell of anger and pain surrounding Billy Brown he is left naked to the pain and loneliness. In moments of humiliation, Brown abandons the legitimacy of his self-importance, further receding into a state of emotional detachment which begs for the slightest sign of affection. However, despite the obvious need for love, the defensive nature of Brown can not help but reject affection in fear of the pain of heartbreak. In fact, he can not even fully undress himself in front of another person, as appearing that vulnerable scares him, illustrated in the bathroom scene in which the presence of another individual in a bathtub prompts Billy to put on more clothes. The thought of being hated and isolated is more comforting for Brown then the idea of being loved and then having his true self rejected, for this means that he is truly irredeemable and incapable of love or more horrifying being loved.
Healing comes in the form of the angelic stranger who is involuntary roped into Brown's plans, but her acts in helping him are of her own kindhearted volition. The gentle, empathetic and tender nature of Layla (played magnificently by Christina Ricci) perfectly contrasts Billy Brown, and eventually persists in reaching the 'lonely boy.' Layla sees the good in Billy and she is able to reach and affect the core of his soul like no one else. Her love is the perfect antidote and the key to Billy's transformation. The naked defenceless Billy is detached from humanity by the externalization of his inner pain which is rooted in an absence of love, thus is finally able to find optimism in the love of another. The Billy's destructive attitude towards others and self disappears in the face of the new found joy which in the film's final moments externalizes. His new outlook is made clear in his extremely exhilarating tone of voice which had previously been absent in the film, and through his interactions as he calls up his friend 'Rocky,' in addition to tipping the server at the restaurant and buying a heart-shaped cookie for a patron and his new found love. The power of Layla's love is overwhelming, Billy Brown has now found a reason for life, and causes a moment of self actualization in which he rehabilitates into a loving human being. The new Billy Brown, is no longer a lonely boy, he is a product of the vast humanistic power of love.
The film is a 10 and so are Billy Brown and Layla. <3