We know that director Spike Lee feels passionately about the material in "Miracle at St. Anna."
It wasn't long ago that Lee ripped apart Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood's war-themed films due to their glaring omission of any black soldiers.
Spike Lee, when he feels passionately about a subject does one of two things- 1) He creates a stellar documentary like "Four Little Girls," or 2) He allows his artistic integrity to be compromised by his overflowing emotions and personal values.
Unfortunately, "Miracle at St. Anna" falls into the category of #2.
Based upon a novel by James McBride, who also wrote this screenplay, "Miracle at St. Anna" is a World War II flick set primarily in 1944 Europe that follows four black soldiers in the all-black 92nd Infantry Division stuck behind enemy lines in a Tuscan village.
To hear Lee speak about it, this is a story that deserves to be told and, in his eyes, hasn't primarily because it involved black soldiers. However, if the story is anywhere near as boring as Lee presents it I have another theory on why it has never made it to the big screen.
Lee segues the film back and forth between racial philosophizing, battles, relational turmoils and inter-mixing stories that only serve to convolute the entire film and drag it out to its far too lengthy 160 minute running time.
Was Lee really thinking "Miracle at St. Anna" needed to be an epic?
What's sad is that, at the very core of his argument, Lee is actually right. The presence of racism ran rampant throughout the military despite the very real and courageous sacrifices of our black soldiers. They served just as fervently as the white soldiers, and yet even here at home they were often treated as a domestic enemy.
It's tragic and infuriating.
While McBride's book captures it all quite well, McBride's story doesn't translate as well to the big screen. Part of the problem is McBride himself...While the story itself is dramatic, the dialogue is filled with sentences and conversations that feel awkward, unnatural and lacking in authenticity. It's as if Lee had such a reverence for the story itself that he turned a blind eye to the excessive storylines and verbosity.
Of course, this could also be because Lee himself does the same thing with the filmmaking. While Lee stages the battle scenes quite nicely, too often there's a sense of guarded reverence that makes the men almost seem untouchable. While it's appropriate for Lee to seek respect for these men, they never become men with whom we can identify or, more importantly, grow to care about.
Is the story alone enough to make this happen? Perhaps, but certainly not as presented here.
Fresh off his biggest commercial success with "Inside Man," Spike Lee has created what may be his weakest film to date.
There really was a "Miracle at St. Anna," a truth that Spike Lee doesn't want us to forget. Sadly, this miracle and these men deserved a much better film than they get from Spike Lee and "Miracle at St. Anna."
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic