Miracle at St. Anna
Spike Lee :: USA :: 2007 :: 2h36
The movie has one main topic- that the country which waged war, the USA, against a racist, fascist regime, Nazi Germany, may have had a few unresolved racial issues of their own. This central thesis is wrapped up in a bickering-amongst-themselves all black platoon being stranded in a bickering-among-themselves all Italian village.
There is more than enough material in this movie to have made a good war movie, but unfortunately, the film is presented in an unfinished form. A love triangle between two platoon members and an Italian beauty, and the unlikely relationship between a GI and a little boy, are both story-lines which could have easily been left out. The central theme, racism in the USA, is the only thing which really matters to Spike Lee, and he should have edited out the rest, and tied up the loose ends he left blowing in the wind. Not to mention the title, which conjures up different theories depending on who you ask. But let us talk a little about the first few minutes of the film, as that pretty much covers the thesis.
In the first few minutes: you see an elderly man watching a John Wayne movie on television and he mumbles: “We served our country too”. If you know we are supposed to be looking at racism here, you run the scene back in your head: the elderly man watching is black and John Wayne’s platoon is in WW2 uniforms and they are all white. So the old man was once a soldier, we can suppose, and he identifies himself more with other black people rather than with John Wayne as a soldier. John Wayne can not represent an American soldier, the scene suggests, but only a white sacrifice. The bitterness felt by the old man, a feeling of having been bypassed by the white majority of his country, is seen here in John Wayne’s whiteness. We could suppose that if he had not felt racially discriminated, John Wayne could have played the American GI without him feeling left out.
The movie goes through quite some length to show how they, the black soldiers (/ African American community in general) were not treated equally to the -majority- white troops by the US army. In the war itself, the man felt more at home in Italy than he did back in the USA. The movie is not supposed to be an anti-American pamphlet but rather wants to place the black soldier on the screen, to rectify the customary John Wayne image of the GI’s. But notice that to attain such a level of bitterness as the old man must have had some 40 years after the war when he makes the comment, racism must still be rampant around him. Or at least, he perceives himself as being excluded. If Spike Lee wants to argue against racism, then he should not force his viewers to take on a racist eye -the old man is black, John Wayne is white- to be able to understand his message. It is not a good step in the right direction.
Cutting out the initial scenes, the aforementioned side stories, the typical racial debating by the soldiers, the seemingly endless series of tear-jerk climaxes and you will find quite a descent war movie in there. Not only would that leave you with quite an exciting film, but it would also do justice to Spike Lee’s ambition of showing African-American soldiers fighting in Europe. But as it stands, the movie is just too messy to watch. You are better off just sitting next to the old man to watch John Wayne, even if he is white.