Disturbing images of children, men and women being brutally shot made many of those in the audience cringe. Shameful situations of blatant racism had viewers shifting in their seats. As blood flowed down the river, blank stares from dead faces left haunting images in everyone’s mind.
However, each marking of blood, nudity, hurtful slurs and passionate tears make “Miracle at St. Anna” a fascinating and memorable experience that moviegoers will appreciate. There’s something to be said when Spike Lee can shed new light on a war that has been retold over and over again for the past 60 years.
The epic “Miracle at St. Anna” takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotion as we follow four young, black American soldiers fighting for their lives and country during the bloody and violent World War II. Taking place in the mountains of Italy during the German occupation in 1944, the beautiful scenery of viridian hillsides provides an ironic backdrop to the bloodshed and tears of the gruesome battles.
Unfortunately, there are moments where emotion loses itself to an inconsistent tone and hard-to-follow plot. However, these mishaps are easily forgotten as Lee invites the audience to engage in something more than just the typical moviegoer experience.
Ingeniously, the film opens with a surprising turn of events that include a New York City postal worker, Hector Negron, and an unexpected murder. A lucrative and ancient artifact that is tangled in this complicated murder web paves the way to a flashback that brings the viewers to the main setting of the film: the year of 1944, at a river in Tuscany, Italy where the 92nd division, also known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” pushes across and into German territory.
A fatal mistake causes a tightly focused battle that proves to be powerful and unforgettable. With torn limbs, punctured chests, tears and brotherly devotion, the movie’s main characters are introduced: Aubrey Stamps, Bishop Cummings, Hector Negron and Sam Train.
These four embark on a physically and emotionally enduring battle against the aggressive occupation of Nazi Germany in Italy. Soon, however, the four become five as Train finds an injured Italian boy, named Angelo, whom he adopts as his own.
What follows is a mixture of intensity, passion, laughter, uneasiness, sadness and devotion. Images that first represent beauty early on become haunting as the story progresses. Tears of frustration and sadness are followed by laughter, as fate is often paired with chance.
In addition to battling the Germans, they also find themselves fighting each other, engaging in an internal war. Questioning why they are risking their lives for racist white Americans creates an underlying emotional war for the main characters. Sergeant Stamps tells Negron, “It just ain’t right when I feel more comfortable in a foreign country than I do in my own.”
Even though the main plot circulates around a mystery man as German forces infiltrate the area, there are many subplots that complicate the story rather than making it intriguing. Lee’s attempts at comic relief seem unfitting and uncomfortably awkward. The bond between Angelo and Train is touching, but it doesn’t piece well with the war story. Their shared fantasy-like experiences are difficult to understand and relate to.
In addition, with 160 minutes of running time, there are parts of the film that are inevitably slow and anticlimactic. Sadly, scenes that consist of nothing more than mere dialogue prove to be slightly boring and ineffective compared to the indelible images of heroic combat. Poor editing and unimaginative writing distinguish this section of the film from the rest, in which Lee successfully demonstrates ability in both.
However, despite its length and hard-to-follow moments, “Miracle at St. Anna” is nothing short of epic, with its ending beautifully tying it all together, which makes up for all the other shortcomings.
Lee’s artistic vision shines yet again as the phenomenal cast magnificently adventures into the exploration of humanity under fire. “Miracle at St. Anna” is strange and magical, and at times unwieldy, but it is Lee’s work of art that makes this film not your average war movie. Instead, reality, paired with fantasy and mixed with magnificence, will keep viewers engaged and attached.