Miracle at St. Anna: Movie Review
Genre: Action, Drama
by: Spike Lee
Starring: Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Leguizamo
Released by: Touchstone Pictures
Short: After more than 20 years of making mostly modern movies, Spike Lee finally tackles a new genre, with mixed results.
A Tale of Brutal War and Saintly Miracles
Spike Lee Creates a WWII Homage to the Buffalo Soldiers
For African-American director Spike Lee, who is best known for his often racially charged modern movies like Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, and Bamboozled, his new film Miracle at St. Anna is a real departure.
Like most of his previous work (excepting Inside Man, his most recent big hit) the drama focuses on a group of black male protagonists. But this one is very different, as a period piece in a genre that Lee has never tackled before. These four men are American soldiers, part of the 92nd Infantry Division fighting in Italy during World War II. As the often-bloody drama based on James McBride's novel of the same name unfolds, Lee explores the war genre from the perspective of these fighting men who still face deep-seated racial prejudices at home and within their own ranks while desperately trying to stay alive as they beat back the German army through the hills of Tuscany.
Layered on top of this exploration of the "Buffalo Soldiers" wartime experience is a patina of religion, as the four men (well played by Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Michael Ealy, and Omar Benson Miller) find themselves holed up in an Italian village, seemingly protected by a sculpted head they have rescued from a destroyed bridge in Florence.
It is this totem that fuels much of the tale, along with a young Italian boy that Private Sam Train (Miller) rescues from certain death. The boy appears to perform miracles that keep the men from harm—or is it the stone head that is the protector? Whichever it is, the underlying theme of the film focuses heavily on faith, on having a belief in something bigger than man and his actions, despite the brutality, betrayal, and racism that are the central elements of the tale. And that element makes it another departure for Spike Lee, whose films are rarely driven by such overt spiritualism.
Miracle at St. Anna takes a long time to unfold, at a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes; perhaps if Lee had edited more judiciously, it might have become a classic of the genre. But instead, the film begins to drag as the story goes on and on, and as the heavy-handed religious content is repeatedly stressed. Sadly, by the time the credits roll, you’ll feel like the miracle of the movie is that it is finally over.
Reviewed by Jenny Peters