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Laramie Movie Scope:
Miracle at St. Anna

Incredible but realistic, tragic yet magical

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2008; English, Italian, German) While alone watching John Wayne in The Longest Day on TV in 1983 in his Harlem apartment, Hector Negron (Laz Alonzo), an Army veteran and Puerto Rican postal worker three months from retirement, declares: "We fought for this country, too."

When a man comes up to the Post Office window, asking for a 20 stamp, Hector calls out the name "Rodolfo!" before pointing a German Luger, shooting the patron dead. Arriving late on the scene, rookie reporter for the New York Daily News Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) begs Italian-American Detective Tony Ricci (John Turturro) for a tip, which allows him to follow two other officers to the perp's apartment where they discover Hector's purple heart and a valuable marble head, later identified as the missing Primavera from the Santa Trinita, the world's oldest elliptical-arch bridge, in Florence, blown up by the Nazis in 1944.

The newspaper's headline announces: "Art, Murder and Mystery." In attempting to elicit information from the uncommunicative prisoner, who otherwise has a clean record, Boyle implores Hector to tell his story as a means of explaining and possibly mitigating the punishment for his rash act. Hector finally speaks as if from a trance: "I know who the sleeping man is."

Director Spike Lee's incredible but realistic, tragic yet magical, 2-hour World War II film, depicting soldiers and combat vividly, from James McBride's novel and screenplay, takes us back to Tuscany, Italy, in 1944 as George Company of the 92nd Infantry Division, Buffalo Soldiers, advances upon the Germans at the Serchio River. Short on rations and ammunition, the ordinary Kraut complains about funds spent on broadcasting a propaganda spiel directed at Negro soldiers from Axis Sally: "Why die for a nation that doesn't want you?"

During the skirmish, Capt Nokes, a white officer, disregards the radioed communication from 2nd Staff Sgt Aubrey Stamp (Derek Luke) of quadrants for artillery support, resulting in heavy casualties and four black men being cut off behind enemy lines. Along with Stamp are Sgt Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), Cpl Negron (who speaks some Italian), and PFC Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller).

Inside a barn Train, carrying a late-15th-century marble head along with the rest of his gear, rescues an eight-year-old Italian boy, Angelo Torancelli (Matteo Sciabordi) from St Anna di Stazzema, who in Italian calls the big black man "Chocolate Giant." Train tells Bishop, who wants to collect the $1400 the private owes him, that he'll give him the far more valuable marble head (to which Train attributes magical powers of making him invisible and giving him the strength of five men) instead.

With the child in need of medical attention, the four soldiers come to the house of Ludovico, an elderly Fascist (who has already experienced the sudden, unexplained resumption of electrical power), and his daughter Renata (Valentina Cervi), who also speaks English, in the village of Colognora, loyal to The Great Butterfly. Told that they are surrounded by Germans, the soldiers ask if there is a way they might escape; Renata relates the legend of the shepherd of unrequited love in the Mountain of the Sleeping Man.

Meanwhile, a compassionate Nazi officer tasked with eliminating the Italian Partisans, led by Peppi "The Great Butterfly" Grotta (Pierfrancesco Favino), is ordered to implement Directive Bandenbefehl (ten Italian civilians executed for every German killed) and finding an AWOL corporal.

When Angelo speaks to his invisible friend Arturo, another mysterious coincidence occurs for the Americans: Hector's shortwave radio resumes operation. However, instead of immediate relief, the lost squad receives orders to capture a Jerry for intelligence about the enemy ASAP. Conveniently Peppi has captured the AWOL German, whom Angelo recognizes without fear, though the boy's terrified of another man.

Antagonists, Stamp ("I never felt so free in my life" in Italy) and Cummings, cynical toward Stamps's contention of racial progress, reminding Aubrey of the Louisiana tavern where the cracker owner refused them ice slops while serving goose-steppers under guard of white MPs, spar over Renata. Train, who until becoming Angelo's guardian had never been so close to a white person previously, debates God's existence with his comrade: "Well, if you don't believe in him, Bishop Cummings, then why do you care about whether or not God's the one allowin' all the killin'?"

And there's a hell of a lot of killing yet to come. My only complaint is with the ending when the story returns to a New York courtroom in 1984 and the rest of the didactic conclusion, all of which I'd prefer excised.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)