A review of “Miracle at St. Anna” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for language and excessive violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes. In English, German and Italian with English subtitles

 

 

          Spike Lee is hard to pin down, his directorial skills ranging from the subversive (“Do the Right Thing”) to the scandalous (“Bamboozled”) to the stylishly studio (“Inside Man”). File “Miracle” under unwieldy.

          Lee is passionate about this terrifically tall tale of a murder that takes place in 1980s New York City, where WWII vet cum postal worker Hector Negron (Laz Alonso) pulls a Luger on a customer buying stamps, killing the man in cold blood.

          When police investigate Negron’s apartment they find a priceless artifact buried in his closet; a marble head from an Italian bridge that has been missing since Hitler blew the span to smithereens in the early 1940s.

          Flash back to Tuscany circa 1944, where the African American Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division are making their presence felt on the front lines. The battalion is introduced in jerky strokes of generic character; the stoic (Derek Luke as Stamps), the playboy (Michael Ealy going ghetto as Bishop), the simpleton (Omar Benson Miller as Train), etc.

A bloody ambush during a routine river crossing leads the battle-weary players into a charming Tuscan village of cobblestones and light. Courtesy Lee’s clumsy flow we are introduced to a fey orphan boy (schmaltzy shades of “Cinema Paradiso” and “The Bicycle Thief”) and the villagers who harbor him from invading forces while warming to the Americans’ unfamiliar ways.  

          There’s a tonal drift afoot that makes for sequential confusion. Are we supporting the role of the African American soldier in an all-white war or solving a juicy murder mystery? Six degrees of separation or separation of church and state as government and religion jockey for narrative one-upmanship?

          Ever the fan of heavy-handed symbolism Lee hammers home examinations on racial stereotyping, terrorism and a myriad of barriers; prattling and preachy but not entirely without entertainment value. That is until the maudlin climax leaves a treacly residue of exaggerated valor and sentiment.