The film opens in the winter of 1983 in New York City where an aged Puerto Rican World War II veteran Hector Negrón (Laz Alonso) is working as a clerk at a post office. In the midst of helping a customer, Negrón suddenly seems to recognize the man and immediately pulls a World War II-era German Luger from under the counter and shoots the man in the chest, killing him instantly. Several hours later, reporter Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Detective Antonio Ricci (John Turturro) are at the crime scene seeking information. After some persuasion, Ricci allows Boyle to accompany two other officers who are going to search Negron's apartment, where the men discover a finely carved stone head, which is revealed to be a long missing segment from the Ponte Santa Trinita, a Florentine bridge built during the Renaissance which had been destroyed by the Nazis during the war. Also found is a Purple Heart, and a shot of a picture reveals he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. Boyle begs an explanation from Negrón, who then has a flashback to his experiences in the war.
His personal journey through the war is displayed in a flashback which starts off where African- Americans and a black Puerto Rican man from the segregated Buffalo Soldiers 92nd Infantry Division are on patrol in Italy. After a disastrous attack on German positions across the Serchio River, in which an officer calls down artillery on their own position because he refuses to believe their reports of how far they have advanced, four soldiers are stranded on the wrong side of the river: Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps, Sergeant Bishop Cummings, Corporal Hector Negrón and Private Samuel Train. Train finds an Italian boy named Angelo who is critically wounded. While traveling through the mountains of Tuscany, they come across a small village whose residents form a bond with the soldiers. After Negron finally gets his backpack radio working, they call in to headquarters and are told to capture an enemy soldier to interrogate about German counterattack plans. The local partisan group arrives with a young German ex-Waffen-SS/Wehrmacht Corporal (ex-Rottenführer/Obergefreiter) Hans Brandt captive, who is actually a deserter, having shot at a major while rescuing the boy Angelo from the massacre by the SS at the nearby village of St. Anna before transferring to the Wehrmacht where he deserts again. One of the partisans knows that the German captive can identify him as a traitor. After concealing the fact that German forces are approaching the village as part of a counterattack, the traitor kills the German captive. When the partisan leader confronts him, the traitor kills him too and escapes; it is the traitor whom Negrón will shoot 39 years later in the post office.
While in the town, after the death of the German prisoner, Negrón's, Train's, Bishop's, and Stamp's commander—the same one who had called down artillery on their heads—arrives in the village to interrogate the German prisoner, but finds him dead. The Americans prepare to leave the village ahead of the German counterattack, but Train refuses to leave the boy behind, and assaults a lieutenant who attempts to separate them. Ludovico, one of the villagers, declares Train the "Sleeping Man" after seeing a resemblance between him and a local mountain invested by legend with protective qualities. After promising to court-martial all four soldiers, the officer and his contingent begin to drive out of town, but are caught in the German offensive. The remaining Americans and partisans hold their ground, killing many Germans, but are too heavily outnumbered. Train is fatally wounded after being shot twice while carrying the boy and dies soon thereafter. Bishop and Negrón hold off the Germans while Stamps tries to get the villagers to safety, until Bishop is shot and dies. Renata, who is Stamps' and Bishop's love interest throughout the film, is killed along with her father; Stamps is soon shot and killed too. Now with only Negrón alive, while trying to retreat, he is shot in the back but is saved by his radio. Angelo gives Negrón the statue head that Train had carried since Florence, believing it carried magical powers. Negron gives Angelo his rosary and tells him to leave. Angelo is led away by the spirit of his brother Arturo, who had been killed during the massacre at St. Anna. Negron is spared by German Officer Eicholz, a former English teacher and the German prisoner's superior officer, who hands him his own Luger and says, "Defend yourself." More Americans arrive and secure the village and evacuate the wounded Negrón. He receives a Purple Heart for his injury, and he is guaranteed a ride home due to injury.
The movie then switches back to 1984 to a court proceeding. In the end, Negrón is saved from life in prison by a powerful executive attorney hired by a wealthy man who has made a fortune making seat belts and other safety devices, and who also purchased the statue head. Hector is brought to the Bahamas and is reunited with the statue head accompanied by its new owner. He holds it crying how he was the only one who knows about what happened during the time in the village. The owner tells him he is not the only one who knows, and takes out a rosary revealing himself as the grown Angelo. They both hold Hector's rosary and happily burst into tears.
- Laz Alonso as Corporal Hector Negron
- Derek Luke as Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps
- Omar Benson Miller as Private First Class Samuel 'Sam' Train
- Michael Ealy as Sergeant Bishop Cummings
- Pierfrancesco Favino as Peppi 'The Great Butterfly' Grotta
- Valentina Cervi as Renata
- Matteo Sciabordi as Angelo Torancelli
- John Turturro as Detective Antonio 'Tony' Ricci
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tim Boyle (reporter)
- John Leguizamo as Enrico
- Kerry Washington as Zana Wilder
- Jan Pohl as Corporal Hans Brundt
- Sergio Albelli as Rodolfo
- Walton Goggins as Captain Nokes
- Christian Berkel as Captain Eichholz
- Waldemar Kobus as Colonel Pflueger
- Omero Antonutti as Ludovico
- Robert John Burke as General Ned Almond
- John Hawkes as Herb Redneck
- Alexandra Maria Lara as Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars)
- D. B. Sweeney as Colonel Driscoll
- De'Adre Aziza as Bailiff
- Lemon Andersen as Sixto (Postal Worker) (as Lemon Anderson)
Miracle at St. Anna received mostly negative reviews with exceptions. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film carries a 34% "rotten" average rating from critics. The film received an "A" grade from the Boston Herald, calling it a "masterpiece" and a "classic American WWII movie that both acknowledges the rousing tradition of such war epics as The Longest Day (1962) and The Big Red One (1980) and adds something new: paying tribute to the World War II African-American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Roger Ebert, rating the film three stars out of four, criticized its editing, but praised it overall and described it as "epic" with "one of the best battle scenes I can remember, on par with Saving Private Ryan." He added, "When you see one of his [Spike Lee] films, you're seeing one of his films. Miracle at St. Anna contains richness, anger, history, sentiment, fantasy, reality, violence and life. Maybe too much. Better than too little."
Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post wrote that the film was "overwrought, overproduced, overbusy and overlong" and that "Miracle at St. Anna finally suffers from the worst filmmaking sin of all: the failure of trust, in the story and the audience." Claudia Puig of USA Today wrote that the film "aspires to be epic, but mostly it's just unfocused, sprawling and badly in need of editing" and that "It tries hard to be inspiring, but it has jarring tonal shifts, stereotyped characters and a lack of narrative perspective."
In late 2007, the yet-to-be-released film was strongly denounced by some survivors of the historical Sant'Anna di Stazzema atrocity and local politicians, including a call to ban the movie for "a false reconstruction that does not take account of the historical reality ... otherwise the damage to the memory and historical truth will be very serious." The mayor of the village disagreed with this opinion, adding that he is "sure Spike Lee will make a masterpiece."
Protests were scheduled for the film's Italian premiere in Viareggio, Italy, by unspecified organizations resulting from the plotline of a partisan collaborating with the Nazis. This runs directly counter to the accepted Italian version of events, which is that the slaughter was not a reprisal but an unprovoked act of brutality and that the hunt for partisans was a pretext. Giovanni Cipollini, deputy head of ANPI, said the film was a “false reconstruction” and a “travesty of history”. However, Lee unrepentant, stated “I am not apologizing.” He told Italians there was “a lot about your history you have yet to come to grips with. This film is our interpretation, and I stand behind it." McBride, the novel's author, stated: "As a black American, I understand what it’s like for someone to tell your history...unfortunately, the history of World War Two here in Italy is ours as well, and this was the best I could do...it is, after all, a work of fiction.”
Miracle at St. Anna opened in US limited release to 1,185 theaters, ninth overall. Opening weekend sales of $3,477,996 attributed its $7,919,117 domestic take.
The Miracle at St. Anna DVD was released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on February 10, 2009. The DVD is available in separate anamorphic widescreen and Blu-ray editions, each with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Bonus materials, on the Blu-ray edition only, include "Deeds Not Words" (17:07), a roundtable discussion with the conversation divided among director Spike Lee, writer James McBride, and veterans of both the 92nd (Buffalo Soldiers) Division and the Tuskegee Airmen, and "The Buffalo Soldier Experience" (21:35), a piece that explores the history of the primarily African American military unit and the warm connection many of the soldiers felt with the Italian villagers in 1944, including interviews. Also included on the Blu-ray is a collection of nine deleted scenes that run approximately twenty minutes total. Four of these are extended versions of scenes in the final cut. The usual variety of previews and advertisements can be found in the "Sneak Peeks" area of the menu. All the extra features are in HD and include optional subtitles for English, French and Spanish.
- Despite being distributed by Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is credited at the end of the film.
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