Director’s Spotlight: Miracle at St. Anna
We end this month’s Director’s Spotlight on controversial director Spike Lee with his most recent picture, 2008′s Miracle at St. Anna. After viewing Clint Eastwood’s 2006 war pictures Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, Spike Lee stated at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival that Eastwood should have included black Marines in his movies. Eastwood responded that they were specifically about the Japanese soldiers and the Americans who raised the flag, that there were black soldiers at Iwo Jima but they were segregated and therefore not directly involved, and that Lee should “shut his face”. Lee countered that Eastwood was acting like an “angry old man” and that he should have included them anyway. Thus, Miracle at St. Anna was born.
Alternating between the 1940′s and the 1980′s, the film opens on Hector Negron (Laz Alonso, Jarhead), a dark-skinned Latino WWII veteran and current employee of the U.S. postal service, watching The Longest Day and murmuring to himself, “We served our country too”. The next day, he seems to recognize an Italian-accented customer, who does the same before Negron shoots him dead. A young reporter (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the chief reason I saw this movie) is thrown a bone by the jaded investigating detective (John Turturro) and witnesses the discovery of a lifetime: a long-lost marble statuehead of a destroyed Italian bridge, found in the perp’s closet. As the reporter pushes Negron for the story behind it, he recounts a tale of four members of the Buffalo Soldiers: one righteous and authoritative (Derek Luke, Antwone Fisher), one smooth and skeptical (Michael Ealy, Barbershop), one a linguist and optimist (Negron) and one huge and innocent (Omar Benson Miller, Transformers). Together, they survive the ambush of their squad in Nazi-occupied Italy and hole up with a fascist-supporting Italian family and a mute boy they rescued. The climactic finale includes betrayal (both romantic and political) and tragedy, but the film’s title is true to its word: hope surrounds the epilogue and Negron’s ultimate fate.
This is a thoroughly unimpressive epic. It was billed as the African-American version of Saving Private Ryan, and that would be an insult to both that war classic and African-Americans in general. The plot has an interesting premise and starts relatively strong, but quickly loses its Wuthering Heights comparisons and slows to a halt once the soldiers arrive in the village. The characters are all very two-dimensional; there’s a cliched love triangle between Luke, Ealy and an Italian woman, Benson is basically a black version of Lennie from Of Mice and Men, and the protagonist’s only real depth is his survivor’s guilt. And of course, as this is a response piece from none other than Spike Lee, white men are shown in every opportunity to be prejudiced and hateful (one of the unnecessary flashbacks-within-a-flashback features a great character actor, John Hawkes, in the most pointed attack on a group of people I’ve seen this year), and his direction does nothing but beg his audience to cry for the plight of the downtrodden black man.
I understand what Lee was going for, but he went about it in all the wrong ways. There’s a convoluted and overdrawn structure, distracting cameos by the likes of John Leguizamo and Kerry Washington, underdeveloped protagonists and an agressiveness in garnering sympathy for the director’s heritage; none of these are what I look for in a movie. Overall I give the film 1 1/2 pitchforks out of five; Spike Lee got in over his head this time, and I hope he sticks to what he’s good at next time.
Posted on November 25, 2009, in Film Review and tagged Clint Eastwood, derek luke, Director Spotlight, john turturro, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, laz alonso, michael ealy, movie, movie review, omar benson miller, spike lee, war, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.