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.’