Spike Lee is an influential and prolific filmmaker who has made over 20 films and is coming off his most successful film to date—Inside Man—but his latest film, Miracle at St. Anna, is far from monumental. Lee has turned James McBride’s 2002 novel into a complete disaster.
Miracle at St. Anna, a film written by James McBride and directed by Spike Lee. Opens today at theaters across the Twin Cities. For theaters and showtimes, see moviefone.com.
The film starts in New York in 1983. Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), a former army colonel working as a postal clerk, shoots an older man from behind the counter and is arrested for murder. A rookie news reporter and a few police officers searching Negron’s apartment find an Italian statue head that dates back 450 years and is worth a fortune. This becomes the central mystery: why did Negron shoot a man with a German Luger, and why does he have an Italian relic buried in his apartment closet?
The story then flashes back to 1944 in Florence, Italy, where Negron and other black soldiers—known as “Buffalo Soldiers”—in the 92nd Infantry Division are fighting in World War II. Most of the soldiers are killed trying to cross a river, but four of the soldiers are able to make it across and one of the soldiers, Train (Omar Benson Miller), rescues an Italian boy in an abandoned house. As the four soldiers and the boy make there way into a small village in Tuscany in hopes of being rescued by their army troop, Lee’s film slips into a downward spiral for the rest of its muddled 160 minutes.
Miracle at St. Anna has many pointless characters, and most of the women are treated as objects rather than people. There are unnecessary and inept flashback scenes, which Lee didn’t bother to edit of McBride’s script. And yet questions remain unanswered: how in the world did Negron have a gun at work every day for 30 years, knowing that one day he would run into this mysterious older man? Another scene involving a magical newspaper and an Italian café might be the most contrived scene in any film of 2008.
Moviegoers tricked by the trailer into thinking they’re going to see an action-packed war film will be disappointed. Miracle at St. Anna could have been a lean 100-minute war drama instead of a meandering melodrama packed with clichés and sappy sentiment.
Jim Brunzell III writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.