Derek Luke as 2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps
Michael Ealy as Sergeant Bishop Cummings
Laz Alonso as Corporal Hector Negron
Omar Benson Miller as Private First Class Sam Train
Pierfrancesco Favino as Peppi ‘The Great Butterfly’ Grotta
Valentina Cervi as Renata
Matteo Sciabordi as Angelo Torancelli ‘The Boy’
John Turturro as Detective Antonio ‘Tony’ Ricci
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tim Boyle
John Leguizamo as Enrico
Kerry Washington as Zana Wilder
D.B. Sweeney as Colonel Driscoll
Robert John Burke as General Ned Almond
Omari Hardwick as Platoon Commander Huggs
Omero Antonutti as Ludovico
Directed by Spike Lee
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Spanish and French Language Tracks
Running Time: 160 Minutes
The following is the official description of the film:
“The Untold Story Of Courage And Brotherhood.
From Touchstone Pictures comes the powerful and uplifting World War II epic ‘Miracle At St. Anna,’ directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee (‘The Inside Man’). Stationed in Tuscany, Italy, four members of the U.S. Army’s all-black 92nd Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldiers, are trapped behind enemy lines after one of them risks his life to save a traumatized Italian boy. Separated from their unit, they find themselves in a remote Tuscan village where they experience the tragedy and the triumph of war. Based on the highly praised novel by James McBride, and filled with exceptional battle scenes and action, it’s a gripping and inspiring story that will touch the goodness within us all and never let go.”
“Miracle at St. Anna” is rated R for strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
I was interested in seeing “Miracle at St. Anna.” I like WWII films and I was curious to see how Spike Lee would perform in a genre he hasn’t ventured into yet. I also mistakenly believed that this was based on a true story. I wanted to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers and the roles of African Americans in WWII. Unfortunately, about 36 minutes into this 2 hour and 40 minute film, I wanted to turn it off.
The story starts out promising enough. It begins in the ’80s and shows an elderly man working in a Post Office look up, recognize a customer’s face, and blowing him away with a German Luger. As the police investigate, they discover a head from a rare Italian statue stashed in the man’s apartment. Intriguing? You bet! We then venture into flashback territory to find out what set off these events.
That’s pretty much where everything begins falling apart. Creating a war movie is very tough because it’s very easy to fall into the realm of cliché. Despite being an experienced director, Spike Lee falls on the wrong side of the line way too often. The banter between the soldiers is cheesy. Characters get limbs blown off and fall onto the ground with spraying blood and stumps like they were in “Tropic Thunder.” Lee then follows the serious scenes with comic scenes. It doesn’t work.
The characters are also awfully stereotypical. Almost every white American soldier is portrayed as a Southern racist. The German soldiers, oddly enough, are portrayed as being sympathetic. The black soldiers in the Italian town replay “Jungle Fever” as they hit on the women almost as soon as they arrive. None of the characters feel very realistic.
The movie is also excessively long. There are long, ‘artsy’ scenes that do nothing to advance the story or the mood and they simply waste time. It’s everything from a camera rolling down a long hallway for 20 seconds until someone opens a door to long lingering shots of scenery. There are also a lot of cameos by notable actors that have nothing to do with the overall story. There’s almost 5 minutes of footage of John Leguizamo being straddled by a woman in lingerie despite the fact that he has nothing to do with the story and is never seen in the movie again beyond the scene. (Maybe Lee lost a bet with Leguizamo and had to get a nearly naked actress to throw herself at him as payment.) It’s just way too long.
As previously mentioned, I initially thought this was based on a true story. It isn’t. It’s based on a book by James McBride. That’s OK, but if you wanted to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers, forget it. The mystery about the statue head really pulls you into the story, but just about 3 minutes into the WWII flashback, they tell you everything you need to know about it – a guy picked it up in a sewer. It pretty much takes all the mystery out of the story, and that happens within the first half hour.
“Miracle at St. Anna” was a major disappointment. It ends up feeling like a failed Spike Lee experiment and it proves that not every director can easily jump between genres. If you want a good WWII film, just watch “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan.” If you want a good Spike Lee film, go look elsewhere. I suppose there’s still room out there for a director to make a good Buffalo Soldiers movie.
You’ll also note there are no bonus features on this DVD. Not a ringing endorsement of the final product.