Miracle at St. Anna released in theaters on September 26, 2008, and just came out on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 10, 2009 and is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time.
Spike Lee gives the viewer a revealing look at four African American “buffalo” soldiers trapped behind enemy lines during World War II in Miracle at St. Anna. America’s “Buffalo Soldiers,” were the U.S. Army’s all-black regiments. Although it is evident that the soldiers were pretty much deserted by the white American captain in charge who insists he does not believe that they made it beyond enemy lines, race is only a palatable sub plot in this Miracle at St. Anna, which makes the racial element all the more eloquent.
If the viewer keeps in mind that Miracle at St. Anna is a work of fiction based upon a true event during World War II, everything about the movie is almost flawless. There were some complaints and controversy about Spike Lee’s depiction of the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre in August 1944, from Partisan organizations and survivors of the massacre, but the fictional account brings the massacre to life, regardless of the actual circumstances. I have studied world history, lived in Italy, and heard my father tell many tales about World War II, and I had never heard of this atrocity where 560 villagers and refugees, mostly women, children and old men, were rounded up and shot by the Nazis.
In Spike Lee’s version, based upon the novel Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride, a young, traumatized Italian boy escapes the carnage and is taken in by the four black American soldiers. They in turn find themselves trapped in a small Italian town surrounded by German soldiers. Miracle at St. Anna is full of surprising twists: American soldiers who fight each other, Italian partisans who are betrayed by one of their own, German soldiers with a conscience who just want to get back to their families. In one of Miracle at St. Anna’s most touching scenes, a German prisoner, a group of black soldiers, and a church full of Italians are all seen to be praying to God, at different times, in different places, as the camera moves from one group to the next in harmony.
Miracle at St. Anna is a movie about faith, about miracles, and about the mysterious hand of God in the midst of the horrors of war. My favorite scene in Miracle at St. Anna is when the childlike Private First Class Train is asking the worldly, self-serving preacher Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy) why he doesn’t believe in God. Bishop replies with the usual “where is God in the horror of war?” to which Train replies that if Bishop doesn’t believe in God, why does he care where God is in a time of war?
The characters in Miracle at St. Anna are believable, and the actors bring the characters richly to life. Filmed in the beautiful countryside and villages of Tuscany, Italy, Miracle at St. Anna is itself a beautiful, dramatic, exciting, epic. Miracle at St. Anna is 160 minutes long, but I had to look twice to believe it lasted that long. Miracle at St. Anna moves so quickly, I didn’t notice that much time had passed.
As the daughter of a soldier who served in World War II, I try to be open to war movies, but they are not my favorite genre. Miracle at St. Anna joins Platoon and Saving Private Ryan in that elite group of movies that are exciting, compelling, and provocative. Miracle at St. Anna received mixed reviews, but I give it a very enthusiastic two thumbs up. This is movie-making at its finest.
There is violence and language in Miracle at St. Anna which are realistic in the context of a World War II movie, and some nudity which is more gratuitous, so I don’t recommend it for young teens or children. However, Miracle at St. Anna is a powerful story of faith, courage and sacrifice and is well worth seeing.
Miracle at St. Anna stars Derek Luke (Definitely, Maybe, Lions for Lambs), Michael Ealy (Barbershop 2: Back in Business, 2 Fast, 2 Furious), Laz Alonso (Stomp the Yard, This Christmas) and Omar Benson Miller (Things We Lost in the Fire, 8 Mile). The film also stars John Turturro (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Transformers), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, The Lookout), John Leguizamo (Righteous Kill, The Happening), Kerry Washington (Ray, The Last King of Scotland) and D.B. Sweeney (“Jericho,” Stiletto).
Blu-ray Bonus Features
In addition to footage and sound that are spectacular in hi-def, the Blu-ray disc contains the following exclusive bonus features:
• Deeds Not Words—Pull up a chair with Director Spike Lee and World War II veterans at the historic Harlem Veterans’ Club as they share their intimate experiences from the Great War and discuss how their service to their country is remembered and immortalized in the annals of history and in the films of Hollywood.
• The Buffalo Soldier Experience—Trace the history of the Buffalo Soldier with historians, Director Spike Lee and the cast, and hear rare firsthand accounts of the deep personal bond that was forged between the soldiers and the Italian citizens during World War II.
• Deleted Scenes
Miracle at St Anna has a suggested retail price of $29.99 (U.S.) and $35.99 (Canada) for the DVD and $34.99 (U.S.) and $44.99 (Canada) for Blu-ray Hi-Def.
STREET DATE: February 10, 2009
Suggested retail price: DVD: $29.99 U.S., $35.99 Canada
BD: US $34.99 U.S., $44.99
Feature run time: 160 minutes
Rated: USA: R (Strong war violence, language and some sexual
Technical specifications may only apply to feature
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Sound: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Languages: English, French, Spanish
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