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MIRACLE AT ST ANNA, 2008
Starring: Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, John Turturro, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Leguizamo, Kerry Washington, D.B. Sweeney and Laz Alonso
Christmas, 1983. A New York postal clerk, a Buffalo Soldier in Italy in World War II, shoots a stranger. In his apartment, police find a valuable Italian marble head, missing since the war. Flashbacks tell the story of four Black soldiers who cross Tuscany's Serchio River, dodging German and friendly fire. With a shell-shocked boy in tow, they reach the village of Colognora. Orders via radio tell them to capture a German soldier for questioning about a counteroffensive. In the village, a beautiful woman, partisans that include a traitor and a local legend, the boy, and the story of a recent massacre connect to the postal worker's anguish forty years later. And the miracle?
I am glad to see that the whole pointless debacle between Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood has subsided (Lee criticized Eastwood for failing to have one African-American in his Iwo Jima films). Even though Spike Lee does have a point, Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima is the much superior film. Miracle at St. Anna is a huge disappointment. There is so much talent in this picture that to see such potential fail, is an eyesore to any film fan, especially Spike Lee's.
There are several positive things to say about St. Anna. Both the scope and cinematography are visually exceptional and there are moments of brilliance. However, I found myself trying so hard to focus on those moments, as they were quickly cut from existence and lost in a shuffle of other pointless historical reflections, that I finally gave up on its entire purpose. It's another classic example of a wonderful concept for a film gone wrong with its execution.
This is the story of the African American 92nd Infantry Division, who during World War II, is trapped near a small Tuscan village (Sant'Anna di Stazzema) after Private Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller) risks his life to save an Italian child. It's also the story of that town's heartbreaking massacre caused by Neo-Nazi Germans (these scenes are actually some of the strongest shots I have seen all year). It's also the story of a modern day murder case surrounding one of those soldiers who killed a man responsible for evil-doings during his time at St. Anna. It is ALSO a story about that Italian boy and whether or not he is an angel descended from heaven.
Now does that all sound like one movie? Sure, I guess. And it seems that Spike Lee would be the perfect filmmaker to bring that story to life. Wait, which one am I talking about? I'm not sure either. There are so many things going on here that we are frantically trying to understand Spike Lee's vision. I really wish he expanded more on the massacre itself rather than having the primary focus on the African American soldiers dealing with racial issues of its time. Then again, it is Spike Lee. This is a passion project, sure, and I absolutely respect that, but Spike Lee made one mistake. I will explain it in the next paragraph.
As I was leaving the theater, my roommates and I spent our twenty minute walk home discussing the film. One liked it. The other didn't. I began to hear their arguments and the one who liked it had a very interesting point. The film runs at 166 minutes. He said he wanted it to be longer. It didn't hit me right away, but he was absolutely right. Spike Lee has such conviction and passion for every project that he touches and his ability to explore important historical moments is truly the work of a gifted filmmaker. In 1992, he gave us Malcolm X. It was 202 minutes long. It was also an absolute masterpiece. What stopped him from adding on to this one? Did the studio force him to cut it down? Was their financial issues? If there is ever a film that needs a director's cut, this is the one.
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