Miracle at St. Anna (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (2008)
Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, Matteo Sciabordi, John Leguizamo, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Naomi Campbell and John Turturro.
Screenplay by James McBride.
Directed by Spike Lee.
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures. 160 minutes. Rated R.
Miracle at St. Anna is director Spike Lee's response to Clint Eastwood's two recent World War II films (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima).
Lee got into a very vocal tabloid war of words with Eastwood about the fact that those films had no black soldiers (the two filmmakers have since apparently made up). To counter this supposed slight, Lee's film centers on the first black battalion to fight in World War II – the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
The movie is alternately exciting, fascinating, scary, fantastical, boring and more than occasionally overly preachy. It is also way too long, over two and a half hours.
Admission time here. As a movie-goer, I rarely like war movies. Some more than others, obviously, but as a genre it generally leaves me rather cold. Miracle at St. Anna only partially gets past this bias – though it is a stunningly made film.
Frankly, keeping up the comparison that Lee himself made, Miracle at St. Anna is a much better film than Flags of Our Fathers (though not because of the color of the soldiers' skin). I haven't seen Letters from Iwo Jima, so I can't make a comparison, though I did always hear it was by far the better of the two Eastwood films.
However, the most interesting part of Miracle at St. Anna was the opening frame story which took place nearly 40 years after the war ended. An older post office worker – a quiet, law-abiding type – suddenly shoots a customer dead. He will not explain himself and when the police are searching his home they find out that he had been a decorated soldier in World War II. They also find a priceless European religious artifact hidden in his closet. Who is this man? Why did he suddenly snap and kill an apparent stranger? How did he get a piece of a 400-year-old statue which had been bombed by the Nazis? A young reporter (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is determined to find out – and the explanation he gets is played out in flashbacks to the War.
As the story unfolds it is interesting and it also vaguely touches on a real and unimaginable tragedy – a Nazi slaughter of Italian civilians at the church named in the title, which is shown in all its horror during the film. However the main characters of the film did not experience this horrific war crime, it was a story told to them after the fact by a survivor. In fact, despite some appalling moments, way too much of Miracle at St. Anna is just about four of the buffalo soldiers hiding from Nazis in a small Tuscan village. There is also a strange subplot about a possibly magic little Italian boy who becomes the soldiers' responsibility and a slightly unnecessary love triangle between two of the soldiers and a local woman.
It does not quite live up to the mystery suggested earlier – in fact, the riddle of the statue is matter-of-factly explained very early on and in the end the movie does not spell out who the man that was killed had been and why he deserved to die. Granted, it is not at all difficult to figure out who it was and why he was killed – however I had to go back and watch the beginning over to have that assumption verified.
Still, Miracle at St. Anna had some wonderful acting by Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller as the soldiers lost behind enemy lines. It takes a look at World War II from an angle which is not usually explored. It's far from a perfect film, but it is a worthy one.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 3, 2009.