Blu-Ray Review: Spike Lee’s ‘Miracle at St. Anna’ Disappoints in Every Way
Blu-Ray Rating: 1.0/5.0
CHICAGO – There is a great film to be made about the African-American experience during World War II. Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna” is not that film and the below average Blu-Ray of it should make this once highly-anticipated epic one of the more easily forgettable releases of the month.
Spike Lee is one of the more intriguing filmmakers alive. He’s missed the mark a few times but the man who made “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “Clockers,” “Get on the Bus,” “4 Little Girls,” “The Original Kings of Comedy,” “25th Hour,” “Inside Man,” and “When the Levees Broke” should be paid attention to every single time he gets in the director’s chair. Some of those are among the best films of the last twenty years, and even his previous failures felt like a director shooting for something unique and misfiring.
(L TO R) Matteo Sciabordi, Omar Benson Miller (behind Matteo) Michael Ealy, Derek Luke (forefront), Laz Alonso. This film chronicles the story of four black American soldiers stationed in Tuscany, Italy during Word War II.
Photo credit: David Lee/Touchstone
The history of one of my favorite directors makes the complete, tragic failure of “Miracle at St. Anna” all the more puzzling. There’s a difference between bad movies - there’s one of those released every week - and what I like to call head-scratchers, films that make you wonder what the people involved thought they were making because it’s not there in the movie.
It’s likely that Lee and company thought they were making a movie about the commonality of the human plight during wartime and there’s a bit of that in there, but disjointed storytelling, a ridiculous running time (over 160 minutes), an unfocused screenplay, and some truly awful performances turn the final product into a melodramatic mess.
Miracle at St. Anna
Photo credit: Touchstone
In the opening scenes of “Miracle at St. Anna,” we meet a teller at a post office selling stamps. During a regular day at work, someone he hasn’t seen in years comes to his window. He pulls a Luger from behind the counter and shoots him twice in the chest. In his closet, the cops find a long-missing statue head. Who was he? What’s the story of the head? What could possibly drive a man to bring an old gun to work every day just in case fate brought him across the path of a certain face?
From here, Lee flashes back to a company of Buffalo Soldiers trying to cross enemy terrain in Italy. The Germans attack, leaving four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. The quartet include Train (Omar Benson Miller), a gentle giant, Bishop (Michael Ealy), a smooth ladies man, Stamps (Derek Luke), the de facto leader of the group, and Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), the man who would one day make headlines for the opening murder.
The foursome come across both the statue head and an injured boy who Train believes is miraculous. They try to care for the boy in a Tuscan village only to discover that they are surrounded by Germans and have been ordered to capture one for interrogation. A group of Italians fighting the Germans finds their way into the village with a Nazi P.O.W. in tow. Italians, Germans, and Americans are all in the same small village, waiting for the fireworks to start.
It’s clearly not a “bad” story for a film, but the actual storytelling is so disjointed and hard to follow that most audiences will give up well before the halfway mark of this ridiculously over-long film. There’s no sense of growing tension because Lee and screenwriter James McBride fill their film to the brim with melodramatic speeches and unnecessary monologues that drain the piece of all possible emotional connection. Everyone in the village is a symbol or a plot device. Even after 160 minutes, you’ll never feel like you know any of these people.
It’s bad enough that the actual film is disappointing, but so is the “Miracle at St. Anna” Blu-Ray. The video, in 1080P High Definition/2.35:1, is average at best and the audio track in 5.1 DTS-HD is similarly just about par, maybe even a bit under.
One would think that a period war film like “St. Anna” would be an easy movie for which to compile special features, but the bonus section for this Touchstone release is shockingly light. I found the roundtable discussion with WWII veterans, “Deeds Not Words,” more interesting than the movie itself but it only runs 20 minutes and that’s even longer than “The Buffalo Soldier Experience”.
The set is rounded out by deleted scenes but behind-the-scenes material and a commentary track might have helped enhance the film or at least explain a few of the decisions made it making it.