12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
140 Minutes of Huffing and Puffing.,
This review is from: Miracle At St Anna [DVD]  (DVD)
The promising opening of this film starts with an elderly black second World War veteran watching an old black and white John Wayne war film "The Longest Day". He dryly comments that "We fought that war too". Spike Lee starts as he means to go on by waving the racist banner once again. The irony of the scene is not lost given Lee's vociferous comments about Clint Eastwood's blockbuster "Flags of our Fathers" not reflecting the African Americans contribution to that war effort on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, which in fact carried little historical credence as Eastwood was quick to point out. Wayne also happened to act in another good war film "The Sands of Iwo Jima". This film does not happen to be anywhere near as good as either of those excellent films. Lee is actually going over old ground. John Ford explored the same racism against the Buffalo soldiers in his strong and now sadly forgotten western "Sergeant Rutledge", containing a dignified performance by Woody Strode in the lead role. More recently the Civil war film "Glory" depicted the overt racism dished out to black Union soldiers by their own white colleagues. A good film where the admirable exploits of that black regiment were given due respect by the white soldiers. I am not criticising Lee's commendable attempts to highlight the wrongs of racism, just the slap handed way in which he forces it down our throat at every opportunity in this film. The white men in this film are simply there in the guise of bigoted villains. I am a great believer in the fact that there is good and bad in every race. Mostly good spoilt by a few bad eggs. This is all a great pity because the film has a number of very good scenes spoilt by a lot of nonsense which goes on far too long.
The story concerns four members of the Buffalo Soldiers 92nd Infantry who are stranded behind German lines after a failed river crossing on the Italian front in World War Two. One of these soldiers carries an ancient statue head for luck, which seems to work for him as he walks unharmed through hails of bullets. This head becomes important in the many strands of this story, which also has scenes surrounding a murder in modern day New York. The soldiers are sheltered by friendly Italian villagers, played by a whole gaggle of Italian actors hamming it up to appease a perceived stereo typical western view of how rustic Italians behave. The soldiers lock horns with the local partisans and also inevitably with the Germans. The loose ends of all these strands are tied up in an over sentimental and very improbable ending. The film unsurprisingly bombed at the box office where it seems to have been completely forgotten. This latest DVD release tries to breathe new life into it, which is akin to trying to inflate a Zeppelin airship with the footpump for my old lilo. Firstly be warned that this film runs for a hefty 140 minutes, which feels a whole lot longer by the end. There are lots of scenes that should have been edited. I think particularly of the the diner scene during a flashback to the soldiers training days in America. The film also contains far too many characters and sub plots for its own good. It appears that Lee wielded more influence than was healthy in this particular instance. There is also a very dubious scene that shows the soldiers enjoying dance festivities with the locals, which seems strange given they are so far behind enemy lines. Keeping a very low profile would seem to be the more sensible course. The action scenes during the river crossing are strong and the Italian actress Valentina Cervi provides a very attractive feminine diversion for the soldiers.
I don't doubt Lee's good intentions, or his undoubted talents as a filmmaker. What I do dislike is a director who uses the medium of film as a massive billboard to display his own personal and political views. I feel a little sorry for such a gifted individual who may find given the substantial loss that this film made, that his control over such large projects may have to be curtailed. I watched this film late one evening, and found it particularly hard going at times. Unfortunately it did not reward such stubborn dedication to the cause. At the end of the day it huffs and puffs and has little to say that has not already been said more eloquently by other directors. I watched the blu ray version which was of excellent quality. 2.7 stars for noble if misguided intentions and a few decent scenes, rounded up to a generous 3 stars.