Miracle at St. Anna
THE MOVIE: Spike Lee's best movies often tend to be his smallest in scope: the single-block setting of Do the Right Thing, the cops-and-corner-boys conflict of Clockers, the tight bank-heist focus of career-boosting hit Inside Man. Add Miracle at St. Anna to the not-inconsiderable list of Lee movies that sprawl out of control. Not only are the men of the U.S. Army's 92nd Infantry Division--the African-American "Buffalo Soldiers"--fighting the Nazis in Italy, they must fight the prejudices of their racist commanders and, in flashback, the white folks back home. And once a small detachment--Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, and Omar Benson Miller--is cut off behind enemy lines and takes shelter in a Tuscan mountain village, the soldiers are forced to deal with a traumatized boy (Matteo Sciabordi), a burgeoning love triangle involving a comely local (Valentina Cervi), a mission imposed by their C.O. from afar, outlaw partisans, a German deserter, a German advance, a traitor in their midst, a massacre, and the detached stone head of an Italian statue. And that's not even getting into the flash-forward story that bookends the WWII action. Two battle sequences give Lee a new opportunity to show off his considerable skills as a filmmaker, but in perhaps trying to do full justice to James McBride's novel (which the author adapted for the screenplay) the director does a disservice to his movie by heaping on characters and subplots and themes until it's "about" so many things that any overall impact is entirely atomized.
THE DISC: The handful of deleted scenes included make plain why they were deleted, but the other two extras are worth a click. In one short featurette, Lee and McBride sit around a table with various surviving Buffalo Soldiers and their Air Corps counterparts of the Tuskegee Airmen and discuss the men's experiences in WWII, from the embrace of the Italian people to the racism of their superiors. Speaking of racism, the other featurette offers a thumbnail history of the Buffalo Soldiers, including the fun fact that the 92nd was trained in groups in several different locations instead of all together at one base, allegedly because even though the soldiers were being sent off to war to fight for their country, the brass was afraid of concentrating 15,000 heavily armed, well-trained black men in one place.