Review

Miracle at St. Anna Review

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Sep 25, 2008 | 6:29pm EDT

Inspired by the 1944 Sant Anna di Stazzema massacre perpetrated on an Italian town by the Nazis  Miracle at St. Anna focuses on four members of the 92nd Infantry Division African Americans also known as Buffalo Soldiers who served in Italy during the final year of WWII. These four find themselves in compromising positions when they befriend a frightened young Italian boy in a remote village that is about to come under attack by the German SS. The fact that this village has likely never seen a black man before becomes the centerpiece of the story that seeks to highlight the color barriers that can separate us--and bring us together--especially under extraordinary pressure. As the town gets to know these individuals they find that they all must band together to fight the common terror associated with a horrible war. Spike Lee has assembled a first-rate cast of young African-American actors led by Derek Luke (Catch a Fire Antwone Fisher) as Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps the conflicted leader of the division whose confusion about his place in America drives his actions. Luke has emerged as one very promising actor and further cements his growing reputation with a complex portrayal of a black man in the midst of war. Michael Ealy as Sgt. Bishop Cummings captures all the bravado of a shoot-from-the-hip character out for himself using street smarts to survive a battle he doesn’t think he belongs in. As the reluctant radio operator Hector Negron  Laz Alonso plays a Puerto Rican living in Harlem who finds himself sent to war with an all-black unit. Towering above all the rest though is Omar Benson Miller a dead ringer for Forest Whitaker who plays the “gentle giant” Sam Train the one who takes the boy under his wing. His relationship with the young man Angelo played beautifully by Matteo Sciabordi is what gives the film its heart and soul. Several name actors including John Turturro Joseph Gordon-Levitt Kerry Washington  D.B. Sweeney and Robert John Burke have relatively brief screen time and there’s a very strange cameo early on from John Leguizamo that seems like it belongs in another film altogether. A host of fine Italian actors including Pierfrancesco Favino and Valentina Cervi add to the flavor and authenticity Lee is going for. Coming off his biggest box office hit ever Inside Man and his Emmy-winning documentary on the aftermath of Katrina When the Levees Broke Lee continues his streak with this very accomplished and humane WWII epic focusing on African Americans we don’t often see depicted in American war movies. Lee makes this point forcefully in the film’s present-day prologue where we meet one of the soldiers now an older man cynically commenting on the all-white cast of the 1962’s The Longest Day as he watches the movie on TV. There is no question Lee is a skilled and extremely talented filmmaker. The many battle sequences in the film are violent and expertly choreographed. Lee’s work with the large cast is also top-notch letting James McBride’s forceful script breathe with plenty of room for the human element missing in many films of this type. Although the picture running at 160 minutes could have benefited from some judicious editing (particularly in the opening and closing sequences) overall it’s a worthy effort from Spike further proof of his new maturity as a filmmaker at the peak of his talents.

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