Contrary to popular belief, Spike Lee has uniquely reimagined his own cinematic style with Miracle at St. Anna. The anger of Do The Right Thing is subdued to make this a world unifying, murder mystery, history lesson with World War II as the backdrop, explaining all sides and more.
For anyone who’s been a Spike Lee fan, they know the power that this legendary filmmaker commands when his work is on screen. You can sense the pride and dismay in Malcolm X, you can feel the sweltering heat in Do The Right Thing and the thing that unified them that was the strong sentiment of race, hate, anger and its effects in different time periods in America’s history.
It was those films that added a gift and a curse to Spike Lee’s name as he was labeled a black nationalist, an angry filmmaker with a grudge against Hollywood. All that was silenced after the beautiful success of 2006’s Inside Man. Fresh off of that comes Miracle at St. Anna – a story which follows four black soliders of the all-black 92nd Infantry Division who get trapped near a small Tuscan village on the Gothic Line during the Italian Campaign of World War II after one of them risks his life to save an Italian boy.
Most of mainstream America would be hardpressed to be familiar with names such as Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonzo and Omar Benson Miller, but this wonderful and diverse array of characters showcase a wide variety of emotions. Former BET host, Laz Alonzo, continues to display his continued range of acting abilities as the stories main protagonist and driving force with Miracle at St. Anna.
When Corporal Hector Negron murders an unsuspecting banking customer with an old World War II German ruger, questions and suspicions arise about how could a man only a few weeks shy of his retirement, who’s won a Purple Heart, commit such a coldblooded crime. Spike Lee sets up his tale nicely and plunges the viewer deep into the rivers of the Serchio River. The graphic shots of black bodies being decimated by German gunfire is a subtle hint to the anger that still comes from a Spike Lee project.
But it’s more than just anger and racism – although it plays heavily throughout the film – the story is a mystery about a sculpted head from Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence and the tale behind the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre perpetrated by the Waffen-SS.James McBride’s carefully mixed gumbo of a script places the four black soldiers in the midst of all of this and tells a deliciously detailed story that serves as a huge statement to the growth of Spike Lee as a director and storyteller.
With flashbacks to tense moments in the States to racism amongst the ranks to a meeting of the minds between the black U.S. soldiers, the Italians and the lone German – all players shine on this Shakespearan like tale of deceit, heroism and hope. It is that hope that is the staunch difference between Spike Lee films of the past and Miracle at St. Anna. In a heart wrenching scene before the German SS come over the Sleeping Giant with a sneak attack on the Americans, German, Italians and the 92nd Infantry Division united in prayer is a stark contrast from the racial epithets common in films like The 25th Hour, School Daze and Do The Right Thing.
Spike Lee and his wonderful cast do an amazing job of telling the story of the 92nd Infantry Division and their struggle to be represented equally in the fight against terrorism. It will tug at your heart strings and during such a trying time like this, you’ll see how the past isn’t too far from the present. Miracle at St. Anna is a must see classic.