The only miracle that surrounds Spike Lee’s new ineptly made, self indulgent film The Miracle at St. Anna is that it got made in the first place. I remember reading articles in which Spike Lee was whining about not being able to make the movies he wants, even after his hit Inside Man. Mr. Lee, with all do respect, there’s a reason why you almost couldn’t get this movie made…because it’s hardly a movie at all. When I say “movie” I mean a length of time in which a story with either a cohesive plot or theme develops resulting in the audience reaching an emotional catharsis. St. Anna contains neither of these and with no emotional involvement is far too long at nearly 3 hours.
You’ll have to forgive me if some details escape my memory, because they aren’t worth looking up… Sometime in the 80’s an African American bank teller kills a random man with a German Luger from WWII. He’s taken to prison where a wet behind the ears newspaper reporter is given the opportunity to question the bank teller about an Itallian artifact (the head of a sculpture) that was found in his closet. The only thing the bank teller is able to say before we go into a stream of flashbacks losing all sense of coherent time and space is, “I know who the sleeping giant is.” In the first 10 minutes we already have four major threads of plotline given to us with supposedly equal emotional importance: the head of a statue, the young reporter, the murder of the man, and the sleeping giant.
You would think that at some point in the movie these four ideas would meld together nicely, but they don’t. They don’t even try to, and then more plot threads are introduced to replace the old ones, before circling back around to the old ones and forgetting the new ones. Most of the time the relevance of these events are hardly relevant at all. The reporter all but disappears from the film only to show up at the end and remind us that we never found out what the significance of the sleeping giant to anbody, even the main character or the miracle, was. And then there’s this miracle…what miracle? It’s so convoluted and slap dashed together. I was reminded of the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm when his wife is telling him how much she hates his book…”There are flashbacks within flashbacks, that have flashsideways, that have flashforwards…” I now know how she must have felt.
Once we flashback we’re treated to a battle between the 92nd African American Infantry Division and a group of German soldiers holding a river. You’re not given a chance to get to know these young men who spout off cliched dialogue as if they had something important to say before their lives are shattered by the German’s hot lead in a battle scene that’s amateurish at best. Spike wants you to care simply because these men are black. That’s it. He’s given us no other reason to give a damn about what’s happening in the film up to this point. The most intriguing thing is how the German’s use psychological tactics to rattle the soldiers — and that’s in the whole film!
4 soldiers from the division manage to make it across the river and spend much of the movie caring for a boy that seems to have lost his mind (you find out why later) and hiding out in an Itallian village where a Partisan group also holds up. Most of the time they just sit around talking about God, racism (even flashing back to a useless scene back in the states, where there are confusingly also Germans), sex, war and about any other thing that adds no relevancy to the story or the characters. And anything that is supposed to add depth to the characters is uttered with great amounts of emotion by an actor and then the story passes over it as if that moment actually meant nothing.
This movie infuriates me. And not only because it’s really that bad, but because you can feel Lee self-righteously condescending to you. As the film unspools (I originally typed progresses, but there is no forward movement in the film) not only do the 4 “characters” that we’re left following become more cartoonish and more stereotypical, but Spike seems to have wanted to write and direct a cartoon. The exaggerated lighting, the camera angles, the performances (from the big childlike soldier to the gansta with the gold tooth), the “cut/cut/cut” editing style that randomly pops up to show the same movement from three different angles (can we please have a cohesive style at least!!!???)…it all makes you want to…groan. For a director that wanted to show the world the sacrifices that black men made in WWII he certainly chose a self-destructive, uninteresting and self-indulgent way to do so, letting his ego as a director over power the importance of his story and lives of his characters.
In fact! The nazi soldiers that we’re permitted to share a few moments with come off far more human than any of the other characters in the film (except for the Hogan’s Heroes scene), you empathize with them. You feel they’re more in the trenches of war than these 4 black soldiers ever are, being treated to well lit dances and electricity.
Spike forgets about the war and the Miracle, and sidetracks aimlesly (maybe the war itself is supposed to be the subplot) creating other conflicts within the walls of this Itallian haven. Of course the most beautiful woman in the entire village is the only one that speaks English, not only does she like her black men, she likes two of them, and fortunately for them also likes taking her shirt off and for the sake of “drama” being a slut, creating some very obvious tension among the characters.
I can’t begin to tell you how condescending Lee is with every decision he’s made in this film. From not allowing his audience to get something on their own (as one of the characters talks about someone we haven’t seen Lee cuts to that character in the middle of nowhere cartoonishly poking his head out from a hiding place) to the 2nd grade thesis moments where he thinks he’s going to teach you something about religion or race or loyalty, in fact it would be easy to say that there’s a lot that doesn’t have to do with the rest of the film, except that each individual scene feels like it’s in another film unto itself anyway.
There’s a subplot with Italian Partisans that are killing each other’s brothers, John Leguizamo making out with a Spanish broad, seat belts and safety, an AWOL German that has some sort of relevancy to the war though we’re never sure what, a massacre at a place called St Anna though there’s no miracle that happens there…and all of it adds up to basically nothing.
If Lee had followed through with the inspired casting of the boy actor or spent a little more time scarping away the many messages and dealing with maybe one story thread instead of all of them…well, he didn’t and so we’re left with this.
Actually I think I know what the theme is…Spike Lee likes to make movies in which an African American man has sex with a woman of a different color…daring Spike…very daring…
Mr Lee, you’ve got better in you than this. I’ve seen it. Let us see it again.
As a side note this movie cost 45million to make and not a shred of it is seen on screen. It looks like a 10million dollar film.