Saturday, September 27, 2008

Miracle at St. Anna

I saw the new Spike Lee movie today. Lee has arrived at the point where there is no longer much recognizable "Spike Lee" style in a Spike Lee film. I don't mean that in either a negative or a positive way. Just an observation.

Miracle at St. Anna is a character driven World War II movie. It lasts about two and a half hours, much of which is devoted to character building scenes that do not really move the plot along. For a story like that to work, we must be manipulated into caring about the characters and there has to be an emotional payoff at the end. I thought the film succeeded very well by those criteria. Although it seemed slow in some of the early parts, as the film progressed I became totally immersed in the lives of the characters and I was very moved by the denouement.

The film is structured, and advertised, as a mystery, but it didn't really work for me as such. An old man shoots someone in a post office with a German Luger. A valuable Italian artifact turns up in his apartment. Why did he shoot the guy? Why did he have the artifact? Where did he get the Luger? Very soon we are immersed in a flashback to World War II that takes up roughly 98 percent of the movie. The shooter was a member of an all black battalion that fought in Italy. An adventure unfolds. The questions are answered. But none of those larger plot points matter very much. As I mentioned, this is a character-driven film.

The main characters are four black men. I'll refer to them as negros from here on out since that is how they are referred to in the movie. One is the archetypal good negro, one a street negro, another the angelically innocent religious negro, the fourth a negro from the Caribbean that doesn't want anything to do with all that archetypal American shit. They end up in an Italian mountain village where learning experiences ensue.

Sounds corny at that level, which is why I normally refrain from telling anything whatsoever about the plot in these shallow reviews I sometimes do. Why am I breaking this rule now? I don't know. Best not to ponder these things.

Anyway, the character development is incredibly well handled. Little, if any of it is the least bit hokey. Some of it you might expect, other parts you won't see coming, but it all feels true. And when the mystery is solved, it feels okay as well. If you have the patience to watch a serious film, I found this one worth the effort.