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Miracle at St. Anna
Spike Lee's anti-racism war movie.
Miracle at St. Anna
A Scene from "Miracle at St. Anna."
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $31,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

June 23rd, 2008: "Miracle at St. Anna" chronicles the story of four black American soldiers who are members of the US Army as part of the all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" Division stationed in Tuscany, Italy during World War II. They experience the tragedy and triumph of the war as they find themselves trapped behind enemy lines and separated from their unit after one of them risks his life to save an Italian boy.

What to Expect: Imagine you're a well-known director. You've had some successes, some critical acclaim-and you've had some major bombs. You also know how to court controversy like nobody's business. Now imagine that your latest project is a big screen adaptation of a novel about WWII -- oh yes, a historical picture. Snore? Not if you're Spike Lee. Mr. Lee has guaranteed press by the plethora for his latest project, "Miracle at St. Anna," by doing what few have done, and even less would do twice, -- take on Clint Eastwood.

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See, while promoting "Miracle" at the Cannes Film Festival, Lee decided that the best way to get people interested in his film was, apparently, to attack one of the most iconic and well respected actor/directors in Hollywood. Speaking on Eastwood, Lee told reporters:

"He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black soldier in both of those films. Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist."

Eastwood, of course, responded. In an interview with British paper "The Guardian," he Dirty Harry-ed back. Pointing out that the story he told was essentially the story of the men in that famous flag-raising photo we've all seen-and that none of them were African-American. Eastwood claims that putting black actors in the film would have just cheapened the film and made him look a little crazy.

His final word on the subject? "A guy like him should shut his face."

Lee, shot back to ABC News:

"First of all, the man is not my father and we're not on a plantation either .... a comment like 'a guy like that should shut his face' -- come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man right there."

All that ruckus about two movies that both depict courage and heroism in the face of the unspeakable violence and horror of war. The war of words, for me, at least, tends to denigrate the movie itself, which is a shame, since it hasn't even been released yet. Why is it necessary to point out the perceived flaws in another film in order to promote one's own? Funnily enough, Lee didn't stop with Eastwood. Of the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men), he said:

"I always treat life and death with respect, but most people don't. Look, I love the Coen brothers .... but they treat life like a joke. Ha ha ha. A joke. It's like, 'Look how they killed that guy! Look how blood squirts out the side of his head!' I see things different than that."

Ironically, Lee is being accused of doing exactly what he's been blaming Eastwood of -- racism. Bill Dal Cerro, president of the Italic Institute of America, has expressed some concerns about Lee's former and current portrayals of Italians in his films:

"Spike Lee is very talented, but I sometimes wish he'd practice what he preaches," said Dal Cerro in a recent statement. "His points about African-Americans are well taken, but, ironically, he does the same thing to Italians in his films."

The Italic Institute of America has had a few issues with Lee before for some of his Italian-American characters in "Do the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever." And while Dal Cerro isn't targeting "Miracle" specifically, it remains to be seen how the Tuscan village in which the film's heroes spend most of their time fares. In the movie, the village in which the soldiers are stuck is populated by partisan Italians who went against Mussolini's Fascists and their Nazi allies. Italian veterans aren't happy.

"It is a false cinematic reconstruction of events that ignores the real story and will leave an inaccurate impression. The term 'cinematic license' should not mean that the truth can be ignored."

Again, it all seems like a big publicity stunt, a giant, "Hey, look at me! I'm in a feud!," meant to garner interest in a movie that probably wouldn't be getting a whole lot of press otherwise. I mean, "Miracle" doesn't boast big name stars, Lee himself isn't a real blockbuster director, and did I mention it's a historical drama that may clock in at almost three hours? Lee's tactics may be part bully, part arrogant prizefighter trash talk, but he could possibly be onto something, press-wise.

He could, of course, have went the traditional route and let the story speak for itself. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by James McBride (he also wrote the screenplay), "Miracle of St. Anna" tells the story of four black US Army soldiers who, as a part of the all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" division, are stationed in Tuscany, Italy during World War II. The four, embittered by the unrelenting racism they've faced while fighting for what is supposed to be "their" country, find themselves trapped behind enemy lines in a village that is both friend and foe, and the stories and events that follow are a blend of history, magic, spirituality, blood, racism, life, death, and ultimately, bravery and redemption. The movie's focus on the struggles of four indigenous African soldiers dealing with war and discriminations is similar, in theory, at least, to "Days of Glory," France's entry into the race for 2006's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. There's also the inevitable comparisons to "Saving Private Ryan," with the graphic war scenes and all.

Sounds good, but buzz thus far has been mixed. Early screenings have run the gamut, from some reviewers touting it as an Oscar sure thing to others who label it an overambitious and too long mess. The consensus seems to lie somewhere in the middle, that this is a decent movie, that it has some strong performances and is shot quite nicely, but that it is indeed a whole lotta movie that lays its messages on too heavily.

Some have even said it was too violent. That's a claim I just can't get behind. It's a war movie -- you don't go into "Sex and the City" thinking there won't be shoes, and you don't go into a war movie thinking there won't be violence. Especially a war movie that counts among its history lessons the massacre at St. Anna (Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre), a horrific atrocity in which almost 600 villagers-mostly women, children, and elderly men-were brutally killed by retreating SS men. There's no way to make that less violent, and if Lee means what he says when he claims to treat life and death with respect, these violent scenes could do more to spotlight the utter despair of war than a highly stylized, less realistic turn could ever do. (It should also be mentioned that there are debates as to whether there were even American soldiers present at that time, but again, history can be shifty when you're dealing with truth and fiction at the same time.)

I don't think it's the violence that will keep audiences away. I think, if anything, this one may come down to simple stuff. For one, the four lead actors, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonzo, Derek Luke, and Omar Benson Millers, aren't exactly household names. There were some famous folks set to appear -- Wesley Snipes and Naomi Campbel -- but both have since been replaced due to "scheduling conflicts." Campbell has been replaced by Kerry Washington, best known for her roles in "Ray" and "The Last King of Scotland," whereas Luke replaced Snipes when the latter found it too much of a hassle to fight tax fraud charges while location shooting. The biggest name on this cast list is the always watchable John Turturro, back for his eighth Lee venture.

Another strike against a miracle for "Miracle" is that, while Lee is a big name and has gathered much respect for films such as "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X," he's not really much of a draw, either, and it takes a hearty fan to sit through all those minutes of gut-wrenching unpleasantness, even if there is a promise of the "tragedy and triumph of war."

In Conclusion: This is a film that will polarize viewers. Unfortunately, Spike Lee has already drawn a line in the sand that, if crossed, seems to paint detractors as racist. Movies based on historical events are often criticized and picked apart for their accuracy -- or lack thereof -- but the truth is, "true" stories can be told a thousand different ways and still be true. "Flags of our Fathers" told a story that focused on one group of soldiers; "Miracle at St. Anna" focuses on another group. Both are valid portrayals, and it seems unfortunate that Lee feels the need to belittle one instead of understanding that all perspectives of the same story create a clearer picture.

Similar Titles: Saving Private Ryan, Days of Glory, Flags of Our Fathers
September 26th, 2008 (wide)
February 10th, 2009 (DVD)

Touchstone Pictures

Spike Lee

Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Matteo Sciabordi, John Leguizamo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Valentina Cervi, Kerry Washington, John Turturro

Total: 36 vote(s).


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Rated R for strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.

160 min




Miracle at St. Anna at Trailer Addict

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