Spike Lee’s latest joint, Miracle at St. Anna, has a number of incredibly good moments. Unfortunately, the movie as a whole sucks big. The film, which is intended to show how black soldiers figured in World War II [and every war the U.S. has fought], has several plot threads and character arcs – enough to fuel two – or even three – sleek, ninety minute films that could make his point with benefit of sledgehammers or piledrivers.
Of course, Lee has never been known for his subtlety, but sitting through Miracle at St. Anna is somewhat akin to being hammered by a sack of flying mallets. The plot twists and turn are many and varied [there’s even a flashback in the middle of a flashback], but just in case that’s not enough, we get three different tones for each piece of this unnecessarily large puzzle. The one main theme – the treatment of blacks, even in the armed forces – is hammered home time and again. If the Buffalo Soldiers aren’t been treated like imbeciles by their prejudiced commanding officer, they’re commenting on how they’re being treated like real people by the citizens of the Italian village where they spend a few days hiding from the Nazis.
Then there’s the shining hypocrisy of a character called Axis Sally [Alexandra Maria Lara] – a version of the infamous Tokyo Rose, only she aims to sew dissension among the Buffalo Soldiers so that they will turn on their white officers and join the Nazis – who would kill them outright. You need a major appliance to cut the irony – it’s that thick.
The only really compelling arc in the film is the bond that develops between the somewhat slow Private Samuel Train [Omar Benson Miller] and an orphaned Italian boy named Angelo [Matteo Sciabordi]. The two mange to figure out a way to communicate the basics, and give each other strength.
An arc that’s meant to be compelling is the triangle developed between a village woman, Renata [Valentina Cervi], Private Hector Negron [Laz Alonzo], who is falling in love with her, and Sgt. Bishop Cummings [Michael Ealy], who just wants to get in her pants. It is clichéd and trite and again, badly handled. And let’s not forget the framing device for the film, in which the postal employee kills a customer – it was in the trailers, and in the actual film, it’s just preposterous.
At two hours and forty minutes, Miracle at St. Anna is more enervating than inspiring. I can’t put it any more plainly than that.
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