Miracle at St. Anna
Spike Lee's latest, most ambitious joint distinguishes itself from other World War II epics in a few crucial ways: its focus on the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, its subtle, ambiguous air of magic and mystery, and a whimsical, almost absurdist sense of humor. James McBride's screenplay for Miracle at St. Anna, based on his novel of the same name, begins in 1983 and works its way backward through an intricate tale full of flashbacks within flashbacks. And Lee and his international cast gamely follow through on the tangential plot twists and abrupt shifts from broad slapstick to gruesome combat. But whether attempting comedy or tragedy, the film is continuously undermined by Terence Blanchard's dreary, bombastic score, which piles on relentlessly ominous string arrangements, regardless of how badly it clashes with the tone of every other scene. Likewise, Laz Alonso's confident star turn as one corporal who makes it out alive is nearly ruined when the actor is asked to play the same character 40 years older, in laughably unconvincing makeup. And yet, when Lee captures small moments of understanding between the soldiers and the Italian villagers they're stationed among, an involving, character-driven film emerges between the cracks of the bigger, messier one he ended up with.