"Miracle at St. Anna"
Directed by Spike Lee.
Written by James McBride. Based on the novel by James
Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Matteo
Release Year: 2008
Review Date: 9/29/08
In terms of my expectations, the subject
matter, the director and the cast, "Miracle at St. Anna" is maybe
the most disappointing film I have seen this year. How
disappointing? Here's a great example: Michael K. Williams,
the guy that played Omar from "The Wire"--widely considered the best
recurring character actor on that show--gets offed in his first
scene of this movie, 20 minutes in and about 140 minutes from the
Spike Lee directed this opus based on the
novel by James McBride (the film was also written by McBride,
normally a good sign), and the main story involves four Buffalo
Soldier troops (black regiments during WWII) who rescue an Italian
child after a battle against entrenched Nazi soldiers in 1944.
The foursome take the child first to Tuscany, then to a small town
near St. Anna, where they hole up while awaiting orders from their
command units. It's during this time that the film quietly
dies as we watch the soldiers deal with the Italians living in this
town, in-fighting amongst each other, rogue Italian freedom
fighters, and Nazis, as well as the growing relationship between the
boy and the soldier who rescued him, PFC Sam Train (Omar Benson
This is all set up by a shooting at the
beginning of the film involving Corporal Hector Negron (Laz Alonso),
and this plus the initial fighting in the film gets you right into
the flow of the story...and then, the film just dies. Meg and
I took in an afternoon matinee yesterday; we both thought the
problems were numerous. I was really tired of the over-the-top
dialogue throughout the film, be it a conversation between a cop and
a rookie reporter at a crime scene that was filled with more cop
clichés than you can shake a stick at; Meg highlighted conversations
that soldiers had with each other that strangely never developed the
characters in this film despite the fact that everyone hates Whitey.
One of the film's best moments--when the foursome's leader, Staff
Sergeant Stamps (Derek Luke), talks about how free he feels as a
black man in Italy but exactly the opposite back in the U.S.--is
sandwiched between bad sequences featuring an Italian woman (Valentina
Cervi) and another Buffalo Soldier (this one played by Michael Ealy
from the "Barbershop" movies), scenes so bad they are nearly
unwatchable thanks to a complete lack of sense behind why the
Italian woman even likes this particular soldier.
That continues throughout the movie.
Meg made the good call about the music of "Miracle at St. Anna";
this soundtrack is easily as bad as the soundtrack for
(an otherwise great film), and it almost makes me think that Lee is
not involved in the scoring of his movies any more, which is really
weird. There are any number of throwaway scenes here, none
more so than a cameo by John Leguizamo early in this film, or a
five-minute sequence highlighting Racist White People in a flashback
featuring the soldiers attempts to get ice cream at a racist diner
back in the States. I'm sure one of Lee's great points in his
film is that the Nazis seem to have more sympathy for the Negro
soldier than the U.S. white command does, but the one that is
conveyed here didn't really work for me.
And, on and on. There are maybe half a
dozen great moments here, but over the course of a film this long,
they get lost in the shuffle. And, given how little the film
made this weekend (less than four million in its opening
weekend...yikes!), this might be out on DVD by the end of the year.
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard