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.