Film Review: Miracle at St. Anna

Spike Lee’s 2008 film finally gets a UK DVD release. For the most part, Miracle at St Anna is a well-executed film. It is surprising how long it has taken to receive a UK release, as it is a decent film.

Around Christmas 1983, a World War II veteran and post office worker shoots a stranger in an unprovoked attack. As police and reporter Tim Boyle search for a motive, they find a valuable Italian artefact, missing since the Second World War. In flashback, the story of four black soldiers and their mission to cross a river in Tuscany is told…

Based on the novel by James McBride, Miracle at St. Anna combines real events with the fictional account of a group of black American soldiers serving in Italy. Spike Lee’s intention to rectify portrayals of black soldiers involved in the war is clear. It is admirable the conviction with which he dedicates his efforts.

The film fits into war movie conventions throughout. Miracle at St. Anna does however maintain an air of mystery. Given the perilousness of war, it is unclear which of the soldiers and their companions will survive. The opening sequence, set in 1983, works well to evoke this sense of mystery, with few details given away at the introductory stage. At times it seems like there is a very elementary depiction of the good guys and the bad guys, this isn’t really the case. Shades of grey of both sides become apparent as the film progresses.

The only place where Lee’s film comes undone is its reliance on religious overtones. The reference to faith and the religious imagery feels rather overblown on occasion. The symbolism is already there, but it appears as if Lee really felt the need to spell it out. There is a suggestion that religion can overcome racial barriers. Whilst this may be the case, it seems like a one-sided agenda.

Performances are good throughout Miracle at St. Anna. Derek Luke brings both sensitivity and authority as Sergeant Stamps, while Laz Alonso is convincing as Hector. It is difficult not to be charmed by Omar Benson Millar’s Private Train and his adorable friendship with Matteo Sciabordi’s Angelo. Elsewhere, Valentina Cervi is well cast as Renata, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is decent in a minor role.

The battle sequences are wonderfully shot; they convey the horror and violence of war rather than the glory. Violence is prevalent in the film. It is sometimes used for shock value, but is never really gratuitous. The aim of these depictions seems to be to exhibit brutality rather than to excite.

Miracle at St. Anna is a worthy addition to the war movie genre, and offers some fantastically shot scenes. It has a few flaws, but is a worthwhile watch.

Miracle at St. Anna is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 27th June 2011.