Spike Lee is known for making self-aware films that have that certain Spike Lee quality about them. The stare-at-the-camera as the actor glides toward it shots. The almost absurd plot points that would seem comical in a different context.
Lee, who took Clint Eastwood to task for not having any black people in his two World War II films, is obviously upset that blacks aren’t being represented in that era. Eastwood responded by saying that Lee should “shut his face.” Thankfully, Lee didn’t listen.
Glory is the award-winning 1989 movie about blacks fighting in the Civil War. Until that movie was made, Hollywood’s depiction of that war included no blacks. Lee, being the envelope-pushing voice of the people that he is, decided to show that there were also blacks who fought in WWII.
In Miracle at St. Anna, four black U.S. soldiers, Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke), Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), and Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller) end up on the wrong side of the mountain in Italy during WWII. At the time, the Nazis were all over the small village in Tuscany. These four men not only had to face racism among their own countrymen, but had to keep the Germans from killing them.
They risked their lives to save a little boy who kept getting wounded. While there, they mingled with the locals and found acceptance in the last place they thought they would get it.
The subplot of the story is Hector’s cold-blooded murder of an Italian man.
The most likeable aspect of James McBride’s screenplay is how well the plot points weave together to make a unique tapestry at the end. That’s good writing in its purest form.
Everything has a purpose. McBride, who also wrote the novel of the same name, joins together good and evil, but doesn’t tell you who’s good and who’s evil. The audience is left to wonder and figure that out for themselves.
Lee’s directing is masterful. He uses slight absurdity to generate thought about what people really think and feel. For instance, as the black Buffalo Soldier company is making its way across the river to enemy territory, a German woman is trying to persuade them to retreat via a radio broadcast. When her declarations of blacks fighting for a country that makes them second-class citizens don’t work, she resorts to trying to get the soldiers to betray their country and join the Nazis; promising them fried chicken, collard greens, candied yams and women with big, white breasts.
It’s absurd, but it could very well have been a tactic used by the Nazis. Lee showed the racism toward the Buffalo Soldiers, but it wasn’t in the audience’s face. There is a genuine plot.
Laz Alonso finally got a juicy role where he could flex his acting muscles. He’s been in a few black movies that were small parts. This time, instead of being the villain, Alonso gets to portray a good man who does good deeds. Alonso has proven that he can handle a good role.
Luke as Stamps is pretty good, as well. Luke is used to having meaty roles, so Stamps probably came naturally to him. Ealy plays type as Bishop, a womanizer who is too quick to jump on the fist skirt that crosses his path, then gloats about it when he’s finished. Ealy’s good looks have taken him this far. Now, it’s time to step up his game to get his career further. Miller as sweet Train serves as the comic relief of the film. He is a dolt, but a lovable one. Miller’s portrayal as the gentle giant is not uncommon, but Miller gives the role a certain life that most actors wouldn’t have thought of doing.
Shout-out to Lakeview Terrace’s Kerry Washington as Zana Wilder. She’s only in three minutes of the film, but she plays a black woman who not only looks good, but is good at what she does. She’s more likeable in those three minutes than she is in all of Lakeview Terrace.
Other actors of note are Lee staples: John Turturro as Detective Ricci and John Leguizamo as Enrico. Also, little Matteo Sciabordi as Angelo is amazing as an odd little boy destined to become a great man.
Miracle at St. Anna is a definite must-watch. Just don’t bring the kids. It’s not something you want them to see; unless you enjoy having them sleep with you at night for fear the Nazis are going to get them.
Miracle is entertaining, touching, happy, dramatic, and a great model for what Oscar movies are about. It might take a miracle for the film to get nominated, but these things do happen.