Spike Lee is one of those directors who, for me, seems to be a little hit & miss. He’s capable of some truly amazing films (Do The Right Thing) & films that just leave me totally cold (Girl 6) so it was with an equal mix of interest & trepidation that I sat down to watch Miracle At Saint Anna – but which way would it fall on the barometer?
In 1983, a Postal Worker, called Hector Negron, suddenly pulls a German Luger out from under his counter & shoots dead an elderly man who had come to him to purchase a stamp.
While investigating this mystery, two Police Officers & an investigative reporter discover a stone statue head at the bottom of Negron’s closet. On examination it is discovered that the statue head is a priceless Italian relic missing since the Second World War.
Now, the story of how Negron’s actions in 1983 relate to the statue & events in 1944 in Italy in a tiny village, 4 Buffalo Soldiers cut off from the rest of their comrades & a massacre will finally be told.
I was quite surprised by the opening of this film. It starts off in 1983, & we don’t get a lot in the way of exposition on why whats happened happened, but the way it’s strung together captivated your attention from the offset, & when the action suddenly shifts to 1944, & the Buffalo Soldiers advancing on the German lines, you’re already invested in the characters story, which is a great thing as you really do need to care about these characters.
The four Buffalo Soldiers that we follow, Stamps (Derek Luke), Cummings (Michael Ealy), Negron (Laz Alonso), and Train (Omar Benson Miller) all play a part in what is essentially Spike Lee’s “discussion” on why young black men fought in a war for the “White Man” who couldn’t care less about them. This is exemplified in the opening battle scene where the Buffalo’s commanding officer (a White guy) doesn’t believe that “black” soldiers could have advanced as far as they had, and opens fire on the location that he doesn’t think they would’ve gotten to. It’s this action that cuts the four off of the rest of their comrades, and is what leads Train (played wonderfully by Miller, who appears to be a towering man in this film) to rescue the young Italian boy and leads them all to the remote mountain village where they end up being ordered to take control of some Nazi soldiers from the Partisans.
While that opening battle scene is so tightly filmed it is comparable to the battle scenes from Saving Private Ryan, I do have to wonder if the very first scene of the film (involving Negron & the Post Office shooting) was actually needed. To be honest, the story of the Buffalo Soldiers is so important to history that it needed to be told, so did it really need the extra story elements? Maybe, maybe not, but Lee does hold your attention throughout with what happens to these men.
Even if at times the relationship between Train & the young Italian boy does verge more on the existential than the “real” world conflict going on around them. Does this detract from the overall film? No, I don’t think it does, but it does feel a little like you’re watching two different films at times – one, a quite visceral and affecting war film, and the other a more ephemeral film on the relationship between two people living through a crazy situation.
It’s hard to say if this film is overlong or too complex with characters everywhere with stories to tell, but one thing you have to realise when watching a Spike Lee film is that what you are seeing is his vision. If you don’t like it, he really doesn’t care as he has a story to tell & that is what you are seeing.
While this might not be the best film that Spike Lee has ever made, it is certainly up there with them, and as I already said, when you’re watching a Spike Lee film it is what he wanted to show on screen. It doesn’t hold anything back, and the whole story of these men is very affecting, and moving.
Whether you enjoy melodrama, war films or character studies on relationships, I’d recommend this film as well worth a watch.