Friday, September 26, 2008

"Miracle at St. Anna"

Even the most passionate defenders of Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" would have to admit that, for good or for ill, the movie's a bit of a mess. Your reaction will likely depend not on if you find it to be flawed or not, but on whether the flaws are enough to sink the movie for you. Lee's tale of the 92nd infantry division (the "buffalo soldiers" unit) in World War II wants to do so much, and be so many things, it'll likely cause a fair share of audience members to throw their hands in the air and give up on it midway through -- even I was ready to do so early on due to one main character's incessant mugging. More than just having multiple story strands woven together, it seems there's at least four different movies here struggling to occupy the same space; we get a 1983-set mystery framework (where, incidentally, everyone talks like they're a 1940s gumshoe), a bonding between an adorable Italian tyke and his black soldier protector, a bit of inter-culture romance, a battle-ridden straightforward war film, and a bit of magical realism thrown in. It entirely makes sense to me why many critics are so down on the film, as it not only doesn't adhere to genre conventions, it often seems to be fighting itself for what it should be, and numerous moments either don't work, leave you scratching your head or rolling your eyes.

But while it may be a mess, it's the sort of bold, really interesting mess you have to admire on some level. In shooting for the moon, Lee has made miscalculations, yes, but oddly, the disparate parts don't result in incoherence, but in a strange, all-over-the-place end result that mostly worked for me. The film is too long (sans credits, it runs exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes), but despite numerous extraneous, talky sequences, I never found myself getting antsy, and while the sentiments may be overblown here or there (the closing moments, in particular, are a bridge too far), I was, by and large, affected by it, and always interested in whatever turn the story/tone/characters took. To quote Michael Sragow's Baltimore Sun review, "[Lee] may be addicted to broad flourishes, but he has the big emotions to back them up." A more disciplined filmmaker would've made this a more cogent, and probably outright better, film, but it wouldn't be nearly as filled with passion or as overflowing with ideas. Whatever your thoughts on Lee's self-promoting attacks on Clint Eastwood, he's made a movie that's more compelling than either of Eastwood's WWII films.


Post a Comment

<< Home