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Doing the Thing Right: Spike Lee scores with epic saga 

click to enlarge Is that a head you got there?
  • Is that a head you got there?
Is that a head you got there?
You gotta hand it to Spike Lee. He's willing to take risks. With Miracle at St Anna, the risk is a larger-than-life mainstream war movie that tries to hold onto his visionary/radical/art-house/civil rights themes

From the first scene of an ex-Buffalo soldier watching The Longest Day with John Wayne on TV, to a final scene of extremely questionable merit, this is an epic saga of redemption cloaked in a war story mystery. While working at the post office, Hector Negron (Laz Alonso) shoots a man he recognizes from his past. Subsequently, the head of an extremely rare statue is found in his closet. His story is then told in flashback form, following the trials of the Buffalo soldiers' of the 92nd Infantry Division. A big oafish soldier, Train (Omar Benson Miller), carries around (for good luck) the aforementioned statue head he found in some ruins. The soldiers, under the command of Staff Sergeant Stamps (Derek Luke), travel out of radio contact to an Italian village and hole up with an Italian family. The impending arrival of German troops adds tension and the plot gets almost too big to handle, but even when it meandered I liked it. The use of clips that could've easily hit the editing floor captures the kind of idiotic small talk that might prevail when doom waits around every corner.

Every single scene in Spike's movies is expertly crafted and Miracle establishes this without fail. The characters don't really develop once established, but they take on a life of their own through superb acting. The story trades in Hollywood stereotypes. there's the bigoted soda-jerk, the serious staff sergeant, the gold-toothed ladies' man, the bi-lingual level-headed radio operator, the gentle giant, the Italian partisans (one good, one a traitor), the sexy Italian babe who entices all, the patriarchal fascist grandfather. You get the picture; there's a lot going on. Lee's insight and faith in his film technique, however, brings it all together.

The filmmaker's fixation with the relationship between Italian Americans and African Americans continues with Miracle. The anti-discrimination message that he hammers home in every one of his movies once again provides real food for thought.

The only real beef I had with this movie was the music and the ultra-corny ending scene. Terence Blanchard's somber droning dramatic overtones swept through virtually every scene. It's like Lee leaves the stereo on when he's working and forgets to turn it off. The ending scene's music was pumped up way too loud, adding so much overkill that it was a major disappointment. Silence would've been way more powerful.

This movie works on many levels: it's a bloodbath war movie to rival Saving Private Ryan, it's a racial discrimination statement on the treatment of all black Buffalo soldier brigades, it's a tragedy ala "Of Mice and Men," and at times, due to the claustrophobic nature of being confined to one place, it worked like a stage play. Commendably, Lee always manages to take you out of the moment with certain shots -taking creative and artistic license, and doing something almost surreal with camera angles and ideas. Miracle at St Anna contains a variety of hit-and-miss scenes, but due to its compelling performances, stunning visuals, messages intertwined with compassion and Spike's visionary style, it proves that miracles can happen.


Miracle at St. Anna ★★★✩
Starring Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Michael Ealy, Omar Benson Miller. Directed by Spike Lee. Rated R.


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