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Miracle at St. Anna

Miracle at St. Anna

Spike Lee is awkwardly caught between nobility and pulp with his latest, Miracle at St. Anna. The film plays minute to minute like a Sam Fuller-esque two-fister, but those minutes add up, incongruously, to one hell of a ponderous super-sized epic, overflowing with unnecessary subplots and punched up to inglorious heights of excess. It’s the simultaneous realization of two of the filmmaker’s dreams: to correct the gross historical oversight of a national cinema that for decades has largely denied the presence of African-American soldiers fighting in World War II, and to make an offhanded, old-fashioned Hollywood actioner. Lee splits the difference by situating a “let us not forget” tale of specifically black heroism within an unmistakably tacky throwback.

Lee’s wildly sentimental, occasionally flippant take will undoubtedly come as a surprise to those expecting Miracle at St. Anna to be a sobering look at systematic wartime racism: in adapting James McBride’s novel of the same name, Lee uses the story of the Buffalo soldiers, 92nd Infantry Division, as the springboard for a wide-ranging (to say the least) yarn of betrayal, redemption, spirituality, et cetera (insert oft-trotted out prestige-film catchphrase here), set in and around the peasant villages of Tuscany. The convoluted narrative is dubiously complemented by head-spinning tonal shifts, which range from solemn to downright silly, and it often feels as though Lee is actively trying to discourage a reading of Miracle at St. Anna as an elegy to people from a lost chapter in history; it’s as if he wants to remind us that he’s a filmmaker first and a provocateur last.

Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Miracle at St. Anna.

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