Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" is a sprawling epic, the kind of film I wish was being made more often these days.
On one hand it is pure Hollywoood - in the sense of classic Hollywood. A lot of characters, an intricate plot, room for war, drama, humor, magic realism, love, and whatever else you might want in a good film.
On the other hand, it is extremely artful. From the opening titles, I knew there was something special coming. Lee did not let me down. I would consider this one of the best films I have seen this year, and a film worth multiple screenings. There were some problems. I tend to look at reviews after I see a film to see what the "experts" have to say. In this case, there were a lot of different complaints. They included: editing, cinematography choices, music, acting ability, mise-en-scene and actual scene choices. I will admit I noticed scenes in which each of these was a problem. But it was always a small problem. The narrative and the story immediately told me to forget it - move along with us. This is what classic Hollywood does better than anything - make you trust the film and go with it. I did, and I am glad I did. My gut tells me that on a second view, these inconsistencies will have a better place in the vision of this film than they did on the intial watch.
Spike Lee has made a major film here. It is about race. War. Love. Loyalty. What really comes to mind takes me back to the first lee film I saw at the theater. "Do the Right Thing". Damn it. Just do the right thing. When you reflect on what the Miracle actually is, do the right thing may become your mantra.
What pains me is that "Miracle at St. Anna" was only number nine on the weekend movie charts. I don't usually care about this, but had to look after I saw "Eagle Eye" the next day. "Eagle Eye" was number one, by a wide margin. EE was a fun film - evoking Hal from 2001 in ways that I really enjoyed - but fun was all it was. Thrills, spills and chills. But no art. And no heart. I guess that is why so few films like "Miracle" get made.
After "Miracle at St. Anna" ended, the woman behind me quietly said, "That's right, Spike. That's right." I agree with her.