Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Miracle at St. Anna - DVD Review

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (**1/2) - Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonzo, Omar Benson Miller, Matteo Sciabordi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Turturro, John Leguizamo, Kerry Washington and Walter Goggins.
Directed by Spike Lee.

Spike Lee criticized Clint Eastwood for not putting enough black people in Flags of Our Fathers. Clint rolled his eyes and told Spike to make his own WWII movie. Spike may have just been garnering publicity for his project, because less than a year later, this opened, and it did even worse business than Flags did. Was the public tuning out of World War II movies?

I don't know what went wrong with either marketing-wise, but I think there will be WWII movies until the end of the world. If the earth is consumed in a nuclear apocalypse, and centuries later small pockets of survivors are able to pull together and reform society, one of the first movies they make will be about World War II. Directors find it irresistable. When are we getting Marty Scorsese's take on WWII, I wonder? Has Woody Allen done a romantic comedy with the Holocaust as a back-drop yet?

I think one issue is that audiences might not have been ready to hear Spike Lee preach again. He gets on his soapbox here and there, but it wouldn't be a Spike Lee joint if he didn't. The main issue might have been the running time. If a movie's going to run at 165 minutes, those 165 minutes had better fly by, but with a muddled narrative, time is an issue. I remember looking at the counter at one point and thinking "Wow, still an hour and a half to go."

On the other hand there were times I appreciated being able to sit around with the characters. It's a matter of judicious editing. Cut the 30 minutes or so that wasn't interesting enough to be there, including the grandstanding and the bookended narrative device, and this could have been a good movie.

It starts in 1983 with an old black man watching John Wayne in The Longest Day, and he grumbles about no black people in the movie. Cut to his post-office job, but when his eyes lock with a familiar old face, he pulls out a pistol and shoots the guy. A reporter is determined to get to the bottom of why he would do this, and what's the deal with the head from a 400-year-old statue in the guy's bedroom?

Having seen both bookends, I don't think it was an effective way to go. Saving Private Ryan had its own questionable bookend (which was much tighter), and any time this movie invites comparison to SPR, it loses.

It's jarring to get a "black man vs. privileged white folks" lecture every 15 minutes or so. It doesn't let the movie become real. It's Spike hauling out his soapbox. And the strange tonal shifts don't help.

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