“Miracle at St. Anna” – Susan Granger reviews

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In this World War II drama, Spike Lee turns his attention to the revisionist story of African-American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in Tuscany.

The story begins on December 19, 1983, as an elderly New York City post-office worker, Hector Negron, pulls out a German Lugar and kills a customer buying a 20-cent stamp. Reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Det. Tony Ricci (John Turturro) discover a pertinent clue: a piece of priceless Florentine artwork, the head of a statue, hidden in Negron’s closet.

A flashback to Italy in 1944 shows how four soldiers wound up behind enemy lines, separated from their unit, the all-black 92nd Infantry Division (a.k.a. The Buffalo Soldiers): the ranking, well-educated Staff Sgt. Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke); opportunistic Sgt. Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy); the reluctant Puerto Rican radio operator Cpl. Hector Negron (Laz Alonso); and the gentle-giant, PFC Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller), who saves the life of an orphaned Italian boy, Angelo Torancelli (Matteo Sciabordi). Seeking refuge in the hill town of Colognora, they overcome cultural barriers to befriend an old Fascist (Omero Antonutti) and his daughter Renata (Valentina Cervi) and to join up with a local partisan fighter, the Great Butterfly (Pierfrancesco Favino), hoping to escape the Nazis. But a traitor in their midst betrays them.

Written by James McBride, based on his 2003 novel, and directed by Spike Lee, it’s much too episodic — showing the human commonality through an inconsistent perspective — and far too long (160 minutes). Without fully-delineated characters, the actors become stereotypical, relying on Matthew Libatiqueâ’s evocative cinematography. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Miracle at St. Anna” misfires with a surprisingly lethargic, unfocused, fragmented 5, combining a murder-mystery with an R-rated war epic in a muddle of ‘miracles.’

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.