Review: Miracle at St. Anna
Plot: In WW2, four soldiers from the all-black 92nd Infantry Division get trapped in a small Tuscan village, when one of the soldiers, Train (Omar Benson Miller) risks his life to save a small Italian boy that survived the Nazi massacre of his village.
Review: I was REALLY looking forward to MIRACLE AT ST.ANNA. Despite all the controversy surrounding director Spike Lee- his films are always worth seeing. Hes made more than a few great films (DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X, THE 25TH HOUR, etc), and I fully expected this to be his masterpiece.
I was dead wrong
MIRACLE AT ST.ANNA is a huge misfire for Lee- made even more tragic as it could have easily been a truly stunning film. A movie about the African-American experience fighting WW2 is long overdue, and I really thought Lee would be the perfect person to tell this story.
The film starts off fairly well, with an intriguing bookend involving one of the soldiers, Hector Negron (Laz Alonso) - who, in his old age, works as a postal worker. One day, Negron snaps, and executes a customer with an old German Lugar. After being arrested, police search his apartment, and find a priceless Italian artifact. Then, the film flashes back to Negrons time in the war- where we see him in combat opposite his three comrades.
So far, so good- right?
It was here that the film really started to lose me. The combat scenes in the film are supposed to be realistic and horrifying, but for some reason Lee has his composer Terrence Blanchard, over-score the battle sequences to a ludicrous degree- which makes them seem like something out of the movie-within a movie from TROPIC THUNDER. I really hate making that comparison as Im fully aware Lee is trying to make a serious film here, but I think a more documentary -like approach would have been more effective here. Blanchards score tries too hard to tug on the heart-strings, which is a real surprise, as his scores are traditionally very sparse and effective.
Sadly, things dont get any better once our four heroes reach the Italian village where they spend the rest of the film. The idea of four African American soldiers mingling with a bunch of small town Italian folks in intriguing, but Lee gets bogged down by his own ambition. Rather than tell a lean, mean & heroic WW2 tale, he suddenly decides to make his own Italian neo-realism type film. Obviously Roberto Rossellini is his big influence here- which is fine, but then he violates the major rule of neo-realism by incorporating a super-natural element into the screenplay- which I didnt buy at all, and didnt belong in the film.
Another big problem is that Lees tone is wildly inconsistent. At times, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is a super harrowing, disturbing war film, but then it suddenly adapts an almost satirical tone- before once again getting serious. The film is also way too long at 162 minutes, and theres no reason why it had to run over two hours. Lee could have easily trimmed a sub plot involving Italian partisans- which would have not only made the film shorter, but would have kept the focus on the four soldiers- where it belonged.
By constantly switching focus- Lee really undermines his four lead actors. We never really get to know any of the characters, which are pretty thinly written to begin with, as they all conform to stereotypes. We have the randy, sexed up stud played by Michael Ealy; the stoic man in charge played by Derek Luke (whos excellent but under used);, the gentle giant (Miller- whos good- but comes off as a walking cliché); and finally Alonsos character- who really should have been the lead, but often disappears for long stretches of the film.
Overall, I was really disappointed by MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, as it really should have been a masterpiece- but falls way short. Its a noble, interesting misfire for Lee, and I almost wish Lee could do the film over the right way- as I truly feel he deserves a second pass at the material. I still think that the film could be salvaged if it underwent a significant re-edit- but by this point thats not going to happen. I doubt MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA will be successful- but Lee has an impressive enough track record that I doubt it will hurt his career too much. The sad thing is that the veterans of the 92nd Infantry really do deserve a film that will do them justice- but this is not it.
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