Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Starring: Laz Alonso, Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Omar Benson Miller, Mateo Sciabordi, Valentina Cervi, Omero Antonutti and Pierfrancesco Favino
Director: Spike Lee
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
Four African American soldiers (Alonso, Ealy, Luke and Miller), trapped deep behind
enemy lines in WW II Italy struggle to find their way back to safety, along with a traumatized boy (Sciabordi) one of them has adopted. Their efforts are complicated by German commanders attempting to cover up a war atrocity, a band of Italian partisans and even racism on the part of their commanding officer.
"Miracle at St. Anna" is a very, very long movie. At almost three hours, I went in fearing it might be too long. However, it kept me engaged for its entire running time and only once was a I concerned the film might be getting ready to stall. (And the scene in question is also the only one I think should have been cut. Everything else in the film was spot-on, and I think the reviews I've read that say the film feels like a rough cut have come from people who don't know what they're talking about.)
Spike Lee creates a very effective war movie, a film far more effective and nowhere near the racist screed I feared it would be based on Lee's idiotic comments during his efforts to promote the film.
Instead, what we have is a very evenhanded picture that shows there were some evil racist bastards in the American command hierarchy but there were also professional white officers who viewed the Buffalo Soldiers as comrade-in-arms deserving of every bit of respect and consideration and support as anyone else fighting on the American side in the war. Heck, one of the most unprofessional officers in the film is a black 2nd Lieutenant; he may not get people killed the way the racist, incompetent company commander does, but is one of the most cowardly and dishonest characters portrayed on the American side in the entire movie. (Perhaps this is what upset some critics... Lee had a Bad Black Man in the film?)
Speaking of bad men and being upset, just before the film opened, there was a minor to-do among old Italian men who felt the film unfairly portrayed the Italian Partisans. I think they should lay off the lattes or perhaps take some anti-psychotic medication, because there is nothing in the film that's unfair to the Italian Partisans. Like the American soldiers in the film, like the German soldiers in the film, like the innocent Italian civilians caught in the middle of the war, like every other group of characters in the movie Lee shows that there are good people and bad people in all groups and he does this by drawing very believable portraits of his characters. There is one rotten--a VERY rotten Partisan--in the film but the is one of them who turns out to be a traitor. (And even this traitor comes across as realistic, because if you actually pay attention to the movie, you learn that he has what some might describe as valid reasons for his treachery.) Lee was absolutely right when he told the Italian press he had nothing to apologize for with this movie; it's a shame screenwriter James McBride didn't take a similar stance.
The film isn't perfect--there's a discussion of religion between two characters that could and should have been cut at one point and there's ongoing talk of a local legend about The Sleeping Man that never properly pays off--but overall "Miracle at St. Anna" is an excellent war drama that's populated with engaging characters that you will come to care deeply about. The three-hour running time is well worth it.