Reel Shorts | Miracle at St. Anna

26 09 2008


Since his debut in two decades ago with the racy, yet provocative “She’s Got To Have It,” director Spike Lee has reveled in his ability to tell stories of his people. His latest film, “Miracle at St. Anna” shows that while Lee has evolved as a filmmaker, he has stumbled into unfamiliar territory – and has difficulty navigating the terrain.

Guest critic, Brandon Fibbs of The Colorado Springs Gazette,” examines Lee’s attempt to shine a spotlight on a group of heroic African-American soldiers during a bloody battle in World War II.

Miracle at St. Anna wants with all its impressive might to be more than just a war movie. But director Spike Lee bites off far more than he can possibly chew and ends up choking on his overindulgence. Part murder mystery, part war epic, part political polemic, part sentimental melodrama, this episodic film is a cinematic jack of all trades, but master of none. Despite flashes of extraordinary genius, Miracle at St. Anna is little more than a cartoon masquerading as a mature movie.

Miracle at St. Anna opens in 1983 when a black post office teller uses a German Luger to gun down an Italian immigrant at his window. As police officers and reporters go nosing around the shooter’s Harlem apartment for any sort of motive, they find a priceless marble head from a bridge in Florence, destroyed decades earlier by the Nazis. The statuary is our portal into the past. Flashing back in time, we find ourselves slogging our way through Tuscany with the all-black 92nd “Buffalo Soldier” Infantry Division.

Four soldiers from the 92nd are trapped behind enemy lines — the stalwart, no-nonsense Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke); the charismatic, sardonic Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy); Private Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller), “the biggest negro you’ve ever seen;” and Corporal Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), a level-headed radio operator and the future post office teller. Trying to backtrack to the Allied lines, the four pick up the most unlikely of good luck charms — an injured Italian boy (the adorable Matteo Sciabordi) named Angelo who immediately takes to Train, calling him his “Chocolate Giant.”

The soldiers and their unlikely mascot take refuge in a hillside Tuscan village filled with wary if welcoming townspeople, including the beautiful Renata (Valentina Cervi), whom Stamps admires from afar and Cummings circles predatorily. As the men link up with local partisan fighters — one of whom is not what he seems — they formulate a plan to escape the Nazis who are closing in on all sides.

Lee’s intentions with Miracle at St. Anna are hardly subtle. The opening seconds of the film contain scenes of John Wayne swaggering his way through the World War II epic, The Longest Day. It’s as if Lee is saying that he made his film to right past wrongs, to reclaim whitewashed history and to challenge past Hollywood interpretations. It’s an honorable effort at a revisionist history, finally paying tribute to the gallant African American soldiers who fought in World War II but received little to no credit.

To read the rest of the review, click here.

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