Miracle at St. Anna
R
Entertainment: +2
Acceptability: -4

Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonzo. War action/drama. Written by Francesco Bruni II, James McBride. Directed by Spike Lee.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Four soldiers from the army's Negro 92nd Division find themselves separated from their unit and behind enemy lines. According to the press notes: Risking their lives for a country in which they are treated with less respect than the enemy they are fighting, they discover humanity in the small Tuscan village of St. Anna di Stazzema. (Editors note: That statement may be misleading. Though skin color was not a big issue in many European nations, make no mistake, Hitler and the Nazis put Blacks in the same category as Jews and Gypsies. The German soldiers did not respect them. They were like any other American to the Nazi just someone who needed to be killed.)

PREVIEW REVIEW: Somewhat schizophrenic, the over two and a half hour Miracle at St. Anna is powerful yet belligerent, reasonable yet excessive. Clever editing is closely followed by clumsy splicing. Solid performances are mixed with cartoonish caricatures. And the director makes his Blacks-didnt-get-their-due issue as epic as the story. Often less is more, and both the filmmakers message and our behinds would have been better served by a more intimate and shorter movie.

Omar Benson Miller as the chocolate giant gives a stand-out performance, one worthy of Oscar consideration. (The nickname Chocolate Giant is bestowed by an injured Italian boy who has never seen a Black man.) But some white characters serve only as bigoted parodies, while others are there merely to be protected by Blacks, this coming across as reverse discrimination.

Mr. Lee does a take on WWII as if in competition with Clint Eastwoods Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Youll have to judge for yourselves as to whether or not Mr. Lee is as much an auteur as Mr. Eastwood. One main difference, however, is Spike Lees incessant sermonizing. Again, less would be more poignant. He doesnt want the past ills toward African-Americans to be forgotten. This is reasonable and important, but his chastisement is reissued throughout as if hes consumed by anger.

Back to Omar Benson Millers portrayal; looking like a young Forest Whitaker, the stocky hulk of a man plays a gentle soul, religious to the core, stuck in the worst of all places the infantry. (Thats not a slight to the foot soldier; theres no one braver, but hes in the most dangerous theater known to warriors. If he survives, hell have seen things not meant for the psyche of man.) With the strength and simplicity of Steinbecks Lenny, Mr. Millers character is simply captivating. Also in The Express and the remake of Shall We Dance, Omar Benson Miller is an actor whose dynamic persona is as enormous as his frame.

For once, I wont rant about profanity in movies. Just read the content. That should say it all. I do, however, need to point on the violence. Since Saving Private Ryan and Schindlers List, the realism of screen violence has dismissed forever the belief that moviemakers are in the business of illusion. Now the grittier, the cruder and the more barbaric, the better.

I must bring to your attention one particular scene where Nazis mow down captured townspeople. Women, children, some weve gotten to know, are machine gunned without mercy in this sensory-pummeling sequence. And when a baby survives, lying on her mothers exposed chest, crying and looking up at an approaching soldier, the infant is bayoneted. Ive seen a lot of malevolence in movies. Never anything like that moment. There comes a point when a filmmaker can become as draconian as the evil he is exploiting. He is no longer making a profound statement about mans inhumanity to man, but simply using a visceral whipping to out-jolt his cinematic predecessors. It is the most sickening scene I have ever seen in movies.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Buena Vista

Summary
Crude Language: A few crude sexual remarks by one soldier
Obscene Language: Around 60 obscenities, with 40 uses of the f-word alone; the N-word is used on several occasions, mostly by a Black character.
Profanity: Around 25 uses of Gods name followed by a curse mostly by one villainous and bigoted White officer.
Violence: The violence is excessive; like Saving Private Ryan and subsequent war films, the killing is graphic, at times nauseating; we see a whole village of people gunned down, with a crying baby bayoneted; though many of us have been spared the realities of bloody war, Hollywood is determined to make sure we feel the experience as much as possible. Blood: A lot of blood; that happens when butchery is depicted.
Sexual Intercourse: One sexual situation, brief.
Nudity: Female nudity in two scenes.
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: Some wine drinking
Other: I was grieved at the number of profane uses of Gods name and felt assaulted by the depiction of violence and offended by the incessant bigoted portrayal of Whites.
Running Time: 160 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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