(Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 9/25/2010...
Preacher Lee's over long take on racial discrimination of Black soldiers in WW II
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the history of the African-American combat soldiers in World War II has been told before (for example Danny Glover's 1997 TV Movie "Buffalo Soldiers"), it's a subject that's well worth being told from a new and fresh perspective. So here Spike Lee has decided to adapt Jame McBride's book which tells the story of the four black 'Buffalo Soldiers' of the 92nd Infantry Division, stuck inside an Italian town behind German lines during World War II.
The idea that the protagonist, Hector Negron, has been waiting for years working inside the post office in New York City, with a gun at his side, hoping that one day the Italian partisan who betrayed him and his unit and all the Italian people he had befriended during the war, would simply walk in and ask to buy some stamps, seems quite far-fetched. In the book, Negron has the gun for protection but even if that were the case, wouldn't one of his co-workers have noticed that the gun was there in all the years he was working at the post office? Even worse is all the time wasted on introducing the reporter and the police detective who are investigating the shooting. All we really needed was to show the shooting, cut to the detective interviewing Negron for a about a minute and then flashback to the war.
Spike Lee never tires in reminding us the extent of discrimination suffered by the black soldiers in World War II by their commanding officers. I didn't find it unbelievable that the racist officer Nokes would order artillery fire on the Buffalo soldiers' position simply because he couldn't believe that the soldiers were capable of making it to the other side of the river despite being surrounded by a whole slew of Germans. By the same token, it wasn't unreasonable to believe that the Germans would broadcast propaganda toward the black soldiers through a loudspeaker during the battle. Lee wants us to see the irony as the Germans remind the black soldiers that they're fighting for a government who treats them like second class citizens. But why does Lee focus on the propaganda broadcast for so long? We get the point in the first thirty seconds but it just goes on and on; one gets the impression that Lee revels in driving the point home despite adding unnecessary minutes to the narrative.
Another example of Spike Lee overkill is the flashback to the diner a year before down south. The flashback is in two parts. The first part is the good one where we see the four Buffalo soldiers being told to eat out back by the racist store owner as four German POW's are chowing down in plain view. But then Lee undermines that excellent sequence by having the Buffalo soldiers return, point their weapons at the store owner and ask for him to serve them. Just like Tarantino who fulfills an adolescent need for revenge by having Hitler unrealistically killed in 'Inglourious Basterds', Lee does the same thing here, with the full knowledge that in real life, the Buffalo soldiers would have been court-martialed or even worse, ended up lynched for threatening a white store owner.
Some have said that Spike Lee is hypocritical after his denunciation of the James Coffey prisoner character in the movie 'The Green Mile'. Lee coined the term "the magical Negro", defined in Wikipedia as "a supporting, sometimes mystical stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble." The magical Negro is "in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint." And isn't that what Private Samuel Train is? He's a simpleton who sacrifices himself for the young white protagonist, Angelo. While I thought the child actor who plays the young boy was quite good, was it all that necessary to have him refer to Train as the 'chocolate soldier' ad nauseum? There comes a point when 'cute' becomes 'obnoxious'.
The middle of the 'Miracle' gets bogged down with a series of slow-moving scenes including Train's interactions with the boy, the soldiers' discussions with the Italian villagers and the extensive machinations of the partisans. Although probably anachronistic, I did enjoy Bishop's conflict with Cummings which involved the issue of black collaboration with whites. Bishop's position, which advocates that progress has been made by blacks via-a-vis a white racist society, was probably more reflective of the 1940s than Cummings' militant viewpoint, which basically advocated separatism and sounded like it came from someone who was active in the 1960s and beyond. Bishop and Cummings also come to blows over the Italian woman, Renata, which is another way in which Lee attempts to 'humanize' his characters. One truism is revealed: women will take 'bad boys' over 'ordinary guys' any day.
Lee's penchant for 'balance' may give the wrong impression about the German soldier in World War II. They were just as bad in regards to committing atrocities as the specialized 'Nazi' units. Yes there could have been a 'good' German office such as Eicholz, the former English teacher and the deserter Han Brandt, who ended up saving Angelo, but they were the exception to the rule. And even so-called "good" Germans all agreed in principle that the Jewish people were less than sub-human and needed to be eliminated in one way or another. One thing is certain: Eicholz handing his own gun over to Negron at the film's denouement would never have happened.
'Miracle' could have been a good film with extensive editing as well as Lee's toning down of all the heavy-handed moralizing. It also wouldn't have hurt to pare down the soundtrack which unfortunately underscores the dialogue throughout the entire film. Because Lee is bent on throwing in the kitchen sink, he leaves us with an 'epic' that's overlong and clumsy with too many subplots coupled with an obvious anachronistic perspective.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
from GAITHERSBURG, MD
Reviewed on 6/19/2009...
This is an excelent War movie. Unususal story, compelling, moving, inspiring, disturbing and very dark at times...tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers in Italy during World War II. Dealing with the enemy, and an even more elusive foe wearing the same uniform...intolerance. Fantastic cinematography, epic battle scenes, engaging and believable charactors. Spike Lee has crafted a spectacular flick in Miracle at St. Anna. One of the best War movies I've ever seen. Very graphic violence...don't let your kids watch it.
3 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.