Director Spike Lee brings to life the novel, “Miracle at St. Anna” by James McBride (who also penned the screenplay). Told during two time periods, “Miracle at St. Anna” begins in 1983 New York, where Hector Negron (Laz Alonso) works at the post office handing out stamps. It doesn’t take long for the story to begin taking shape when a face from Hector’s past appears at his stamp window. As quickly as you realize Hector recognizes the man, he shoots him.
Arriving late at the scene of the crime is reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who wants a chance to get away from writing obituaries. He tags along with two detectives while they search Hector’s house for clues. There they find the head of a statue which turns out to be - according to a professor - a “goldmine” or - for Tim Boyle - front page news. Boyle, high on his front page report, makes his way to Hector’s cell to get an interview. Turns out, Hector’s a good guy with a clean slate, so Boyle pushes to find out why he had the head of a famous statue (worth millions) and why he killed a man with a German gun.
So begins Hector’s story and the story of the men he served with during World War II. The men of 92nd Infantry Division are walking through Tuscany, Italy in 1944 and begin making their way across a river. We’re introduced to several of the men, including: Hector, Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), Second Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke), and Private First Class Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller). When the violence comes, it comes unexpectedly, leaving little time to process. The battle scenes are graphic, but they don’t feel too choreographed, which enhances their sense of reality. Hector, Bishop, Stamps and Train make it across the river, but when they radio their Captain he doesn’t believe them and ignores their request for assistance.
As the men make their way without support, Train and Bishop come across Angelo (Matteo Sciabordi), a young boy all alone that Train manages to save. When the men come across an Italian village, they find a family and ask them for help with the young, sick boy. It’s Renata (Valentina Cervi) who first offers help to the soldiers by telling them they were lucky to have bypassed the Germans who were surrounding their village, and that the only way out is to cross the mountain of the sleeping man. The mountain of the sleeping man continues to tie into the film throughout the 2 hours and 40 minute run time, as does the story of Angelo and the theme of Miracles.
The length did seem a bit daunting at first, but once the film started, the amount of time it took to tell this story was all that mattered. Spike Lee and James McBride bring to life a story that weaves wonderfully between events to tell a cohesive, saddening and mesmerizing story of a group of African-American men who fought together like brothers, even when they felt abandoned by their leaders. The relationships are wonderfully developed and all of the actors brought a great presence to the role, especially Omar Benson Miller as kindhearted, Sam Train and Derek Luke as Stamps who always seemed to hope for a better tomorrow. It’s Train’s relationship with Angelo, though that remains one of the most wonderful throughout the film.
There are lots of characters in this film, so it takes trained and talented director and writer to present them all evenly without having them overshadow each other, and Lee and McBride are up to the challenge. New characters are occasionally introduced, including a group of partisans. Hector grows suspicious of one of the men named Peppi (Pierfrancesco Favino) who you will instantly recognize as the man he shot in 1984. The question becomes why did Hector shoot Peppi and why is Angelo so afraid of him? The ultimate reveal of all of the events that took place that led these people together remains consistent and offers a conclusion that, while heartbreaking, is moving and powerful.
“Miracle at St. Anna” impacts you from the moment it begins to the very moment it ends. Touching on the men’s experience of being African American soldiers fighting a war for a country that doesn’t treat them equally is discussed throughout the film and is handled well by the screenplay. With a fantastic cast and strong direction, "Miracle at St. Anna" does an impressive job covering the story of these men and the war they were fighting.
VIDEO: "Miracle at St. Anna" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is quite good, as the transfer does justice to the bold, gritty cinematography by ace cinematographer Matthew Libatique ("The Fountain", "Iron Man".) Sharpness and detail are usually quite pleasing, as while the picture never quite appeared crystal clear, it did look well-defined during the majority of the running time.
Flaws included some slight instances of edge enhancement, as well as a couple of traces of pixelation. No wear and tear was seen on the print, nor were any additional concerns spotted. Some visible grain at times is an intentional element of the cinematography. Colors appeared spot-on, and flesh tones looked accurate.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While the film's sound mix does offer some standard surround use for gunfire and other effects during the action scenes, this is generally a bit more subdued than most films in the genre, and many scenes are dialogue-driven. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and a warm, rich-sounding score.
EXTRAS: There are a few previews for other titles from the studio, but otherwise, there are no extras. That's a bit disappointing, as a commentary or historical documentary would have been quite nice for a film like this.
Final Thoughts: Powerful and well-acted, Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" isn't one of the filmmaker's best works, but it remains a compelling war drama throughout. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality, but comes up short on extras. Recommended.
The Film B