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September 2008

By Wilson Morales


Distributor: Touchstone Pictures (Disney)
Director: Spike Lee
Screenwriter: James McBride, based on his novel
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
Composer: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Matteo Sciabordi, John Leguizamo, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Valentina Cervi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Michael K. Williams, and Kerry Washington
Running Time: 2:40
Rating: R (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)


Spike Lee has been waiting to make a war film for the longest time. Having seen few Blacks or none at all in past war films only increased his desire to get it done. There are plenty of stories from black soldiers who fought in World War II that haven’t been told and some of these guys were in the front and center of it. With funding coming outside of the studio system, Lee set out on telling a story based on the novel from author/ screenwriter James McBride, ‘Miracle at St. Anna’. While the film does highlight Blacks and Latinos in the war, specifically the Buffalo Soldiers, the direction that Lee took to make the film was jagged. At the end of this nearly three hour movie, what you have is a noble attempt thwarted by uneven artistic choices.

It’s the 1980s and we have an elderly postal clerk (Alonso) watching the John Wayne film, ‘The Longest Day’, in which he mutters to himself, ‘We were there too.’ We then see the clerk working in the post office when another elderly man steps in front of his booth looking to buy stamps. Suddenly the clerk pulls out his service revolver and shoots him dead after recognizing him. Taken into police custody without uttering a word for the shooting, a journalist (Gordon-Levitt) is let in to get his side of the story. While the cops are searching his apartment for any evidence, they discover a statue that apparently was stolen from Rome during WWII. The postal clerk then decides to tell his story to the reporter about the statue and how he ended up with it. It all began 40 years ago.

The clerk says he was part of a surviving group of soldiers, specifically four of them, during an ambush by the Nazis that left the rest of his Buffalo Soldiers dead in the bushes and water in Italy while they raced for cover. His name is (Corporal) Hector Negron and with him were 2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Luke), Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Ealy), and Private First Class Sam Train (Miller). While looking for safety, they ended up in an Italian village filled resistance fighters and families. In the meantime, dim-witted Train had taken a fatherly role to a little orphan boy (Torancelli) he found nearly dead.

With the Germans headed toward their way, the four soldiers go through the motions of mingling with the crowd, discussing the racism that’s non-existent there as opposed back home in the states, while waiting for help, and gathering information from a German soldier captured by some fascist resistance fighters. Little do they know that a traitor lurks amongst this crowd and the statue holds a key to survival.

While the premise sounds intriguing and involves a mystery, the problems that exist with the film is that there are too many unnecessary sequences that throw the storyline out of balance. Although Lee presents a strong opening and examines how racism played out with the Blacks in the war, at times, it seems like he tries to force the issue down our throats. The film is half reality and half fantasy. Some things just don’t make sense. With a running time of over two hours, it gives the audience plenty of time to either fall in love with what’s going on, or start nitpicking at some of the misdirection of the film. There’s also the casting of big names is wasteful roles such as John Leguizamo and Kerry Washington. Yes, they love Spike and would do anything for him, but they added no value to being in the film. All of the four actors (Luke, Ealy, Alonso, and Miller) did their best with their roles, but Miller’s slow witted character became too much of a distraction. He may get an award somewhere for ‘Best Simple Jack’ routine. See ‘Tropic Thunder’ to understand this statement. Instead of telling the audience a story of four heroic men and what they did for the country, Lee chose to tell ‘his’ story, which brought in a new meaning to ‘Miracle’.