DVD Review: “Miracle at St. Anna”

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51rp3jivdll_sl500_aa240_Miracle at St. Anna opens with a crime:  A black postal worker pulls out a German Lugar pistol and kills an Italian man waiting in line to buy stamps.  Why did he do it?  That’s what reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to find out as he accompanies detectives to the killer’s apartment.  There, they find the head of an Italian statue that is worth millions.  The mystery deepens and Boyle worms his way into getting an interview with the worker, whose name is Hector Negron.  Negron (played by actor Laz Alonso in old age makeup) begins to tell the story of his tour of duty in World War II as a part of the 92nd Infantry Division, a.k.a the Buffalo Soldiers Division, a segregated platoon of all black soldiers.

From there the film flashes back to Italy, World War II, and proceeds to get worse by the minute.  We are thrust into a brutally bloody battle sequence reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, except not nearly as effective.  Four soldiers are separated from the platoon and must fend for themselves when their racist commanding officer nearly blows them up.  These four soldiers are Sergeant Bishop (Michael Ealy), a womanizing cynic, Sgt. Stamps (Derek Luke), the level headed, by the book soldier, Private Train (Omar Benson Miller), a gentle giant who carries around the severed head of an Italian statue for good luck (but seeing as he’s not in possession of it in the present day, you have an idea of what’s going to happen to him) and finally, Corporal Negron (Alonso, gain, free of the latex).  The four soldiers come upon an orphaned Italian boy that Train refuses to leave on his own, especially after the cute kid is injured in a bomb blast.  They carry the boy (Matteo Sciabordi) to a nearby Italian village to get help.

This village is one of those movie villages where the surviving citizens are all healthy looking, as if the war hasn’t affected them too much.  Of course, there is a gorgeous Italian woman (Valentina Cervi) who happens to speak English and is a little horny.  Stamps pines for her, yet Bishop is such a smooth talker he ends up getting lucky.  Meanwhile, the little boy gets progressively better, the Italian resistance sneaks into the village for supplies, the Nazis approach, and the Americans are slowly sending backup.  You’d think that with so much going on in this sprawling 160-minute epic, your interest would be held for more than 10 minutes or so, at least to learn why Negron shot the man in the opening.  Alas, Miracle at St. Anna is so full of clichés and crappy dialogue that the only mystery you’ll want to solve is why you’re even watching the movie in the first place.  This is a shame, because there is an important story that could have been told in this film, and this is subject matter that has only been handled in a smattering of films — and every American should be aware of it.  Alas, director Spike Lee does a horrible job of keeping the movie interesting.

That’s right — Spike Lee, the man responsible for some of the most important films about the black experience, and seemingly the right man to tell this story, completely fails.   Each character in Miracle at St. Anna is so cardboard you can almost see the perforated edges along their sleeves where they were pushed out of the special “World War II” paper doll book.  Now, stock characters aren’t so bad if they at least have compelling dialogue or something interesting to do, but in this film, everyone seems to be killing time until the “big mystery” is solved.  The action sequences are dull and the sex scene weak.

That Lee, coming off of the stellar Inside Man and the monumental Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, would turn out something so… mediocre is possibly a bigger disappointment than the movie as a whole.  I hope that someday someone comes along to tell the story of black soldiers in World War II, a story that stands up with the wonderful film, Glory, which told the tale of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first black regiments during the Civil War.  Until then, we’ll have to wait, because Miracle at St. Anna is not worthy of the subject matter.

Miracle at S. Anna (Touchstone) is available through Amazon

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