Miracle at St. Anna (Blu-ray)
Directed by Spike Lee
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 160 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Review Date: February 4, 2009
Spike Lee brings another interesting and illuminating story of African-American bravery and sacrifice to the fore in Miracle at St. Anna. Based on a true story, Miracle at St. Anna is almost an hour too long and suffers from haphazard construction, jerking the audience wildly around to different points of view as it pieces together its story. The pieces are all there, but tighter writing and less self-indulgent direction would have made a good film into a great one.
In 1983, postal worker Hector Negron shoots someone who appears to be an innocent customer buying stamps. As he awaits trial, we go back to 1944 as the Army’s 92nd Division, codenamed Buffalo Soldiers, is on maneuvers in Italy with Germans all around. Four soldiers get separated from their division: Negron (Laz Alonso), Cummings (Michael Ealy), Stamps (Derek Luke), and slow-witted giant Train (Omar Benson Miller), and these men carrying an injured child (Matteo Sciabordi) with them hold up in the village of St. Anna with only a handful of loyal patricians to help them against the slowly advancing Germans. There’s also a traitor in their midst, the infamous “Great Butterfly” (Pierfrancesco Favino), but they’re unaware of his potentially lethal presence. Over the course of the two-and-a-half hours, we get to know them all, some of the villagers, all of which helps explain the opening prologue shooting.
James McBride, who wrote the original novel, has also contributed the screenplay, but he seems unwilling to let many secondary scenes and characters go thus contributing to the film’s overloaded feel and unnecessarily jerky construction. Several scenes showing the white commanders with unfeeling attitudes toward their black brothers fighting and dying on the front lines make their point without the need for constant repetition, while the scenes showing the black soldiers enjoying the acceptance of the Italian villagers who don’t judge them by their skin color are also a trifle overdone. The points are undoubtedly true but don’t require sledgehammer techniques for the themes to be fully presented. Director Lee stages all of the combat scenes very well with the expected graphic violence right in-your-face. Tender scenes between the lumbering Train and the young boy he comes to think of as his son are lovely but slow the film’s pace to a crawl.
Performances are a bit erratic. Top-billed Derek Luke and Laz Alonso make the strongest impressions as the commander and the inevitable hero. Omar Benson Miller gives a less accomplished but still ingratiating portrayal as the soulfully simple Train. Michael Ealy’s womanizing Cummings is the least impressive of the four main characters, his smirking demeanor and hot temper not always realistically conveyed. Valentina Cerri makes the sympathetic villager Renata a memorable supporting character. Alexandra Maria Lara has one of the film’s most tantalizing scenes as Axis Sally, the propaganda-spouting German radio artist who used specially prepared material to undermine the Buffalo Soldiers’ morale.
The transfer has been framed at 2.35:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The framework scenes in 1983 are beautifully and richly shot and delivered with warm colors and excellent sharpness. The 1944 war story (which makes up a majority of the film) has a more processed look with a slightly softer focus, less saturated color, and detail that’s just a hair short of perfection. There is a fair amount of subtitles in the movie, and the white titles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is quite excellent with the battle scenes especially waking up all the surround channels and subwoofer with generous and expansive spreads of the sounds of war. During the quieter passages, Terence Blanchard’s score is the primary occupant of the rear channels, the music well recorded and delivered nicely. Incidentally, the liner notes give the audio codec as DTS-HD without the Master Audio designation. The PS3 used for the purposes of this review had no trouble decoding the entire lossless codec. Your mileage may vary.
“Deeds Not Words” finds director Spike Lee, screenwriter James McBride, and six veterans of World War II (four from the 92nd Division and two Tuskegee airmen) in a round table discussion about their experiences during the war. This 1080i featurette runs 17 minutes.
“The Buffalo Soldier Experience” is a 21 ½-minute documentary narrated by historian Chad Williams and featuring interviews with World War II Buffalo Soldier veterans discussing their unique bond with the people of Italy who took them in during their 1944-45 campaign there. It is presented in 1080i.
There are nine deleted/extended scenes which may be watched individually or in one 5 ½-minute group. They are presented in 1080i.
There are 1080p previews of Lost - Season 4, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Doubt, and Blindness. The trailer for Miracle at St. Anna is not present here but can be found on other Disney Blu-ray discs.
Miracle at St. Anna requires patience with its awkward, piecemeal storytelling and somewhat indulgent direction, but the story has a satisfying emotional payoff that makes it a journey worth taking.
Edited by MattH. - 7/14/2009 at 08:50 pm GMT
Edited by MattH. - 7/15/2009 at 04:24 am GMT