I really can't remember the last time I saw a more confused movie that Miracle at St. Anna. (Uh, what was the miracle, again?)
You know, it would have been awesome if Spike Lee had decided not to let an 11-year old write the dialogue for this movie. Shitty dialogue makes bad actors out of good. And, boy, is this shitty dialogue. It's like someone set up a macro on a word processor, with entries for "homespun", "black slang", "tough guy", "serious".... Tiny little roles like the judge seem so out of tune. John Turturro, a great actor, sounds like he's doing some SNL sketch as a hard boiled detective, I swear to god. It's so over the top I suspect it must be intentional. But why stylize in such a throwaway, offhand way?
My adviser in college was always scolding me for using the word "tone" in my papers. She thought it was a needless and vague word. She was right, of course. But I think tone is real, at least in movies, and this is yet another movie where the tone makes no sense in connection with the plot. I saw the trailer and was so jazzed, man, Spike Lee showed such a light hand in The Inside Man, and I loved the World War II/hidden secrets of the past/murder mystery angle. And the trailer got the vibe just right, a kind of eerie, quiet sadness. So why was the first half of the movie in this bizarre kind of slapstick tone? It was like I was watching a WWII-era, black Stripes. The plot wasn't comedic, but the tone was, and it gave the first half of the movie this weird, sickly vibe.
It's a confusion that grows to envelope the whole movie. So many things don't make sense, which I'm sorry to say seems a growing problem in movies. Like, big spoilers here: so the big, annoyingly pure-hearted guy Train is choking that minor character for no particular reason I can divine, and his head is rolled back so he looks like the Sleeping Man, the figure in the mountain. And the old Italian dude says "The Sleeping Man!" But what does that mean? The locals say the Sleeping Man will awaken to save them. But he doesn't save them; he gets killed like every other character in the goddamn movie at the end. He doesn't even save the boy, really. And why does the main character say "I know who the Sleeping Man is"? Ok, movie, so it's this Train guy. Who the hell cares? Why does it matter if he's that guy? That has nothing to do with the main character shooting the Italian dude in the bank. At all. It's just some portentous shit to say in your movie, but when it doesn't have any actual connection to what's going on in terms of content, it's pretty cynical, dudes. (And how the hell does the main character know he's the Sleeping Man? He heard the old Italian dude's quiet aside and was like "Aha!"? It's all nonsense.)
He shoots the guy in the bank, you see, to avenge the massacre at St. Anna-- I'm still not comprehending what miracle is referred to in the movie's title, by the way-- this massacre that he heard about... when, exactly? I mean the chain of knowledge here makes no sense. The kid, I guess, was at the massacre, and the deserting German. OK, so the kid sees the German lieutenant guy talking to the Italian traitor. Then he sees the German lieutenant guy shoot his friend. So far so good. But does the kid really know the Italian guy was (kind of, sort of) responsible for the massacre in the Italian village? That's a pretty large logical leap for an 8 year old to make. And more to the point, how does the main character find out? The kid never tells him the Italian guy was (vaguely) responsible for this massacre, if in fact the kid knew. As far as the main character knows, all the Italian traitor did was betray his friend and kill the deserting German. Is that bad? Sure. Is that enough to compel you to bring a pistol to work every day in case you see this guy again, and then when you do happen to see him, shoot him in cold blood and ruin your life? The movie wants us to think that he shoots the Italian because of the massacre, but I see no way he could have known about it. (And the idea that this guy is guilty of a massacre is weird too. Yes, he betrayed his friend to the Nazis, and that sucks. But all he did was tell them what village to look in. That really makes him responsible when the Nazis massacre the village? Really?)
This kind of confusion tends to beget confusion, to the point where your movie makes such little sense, you get to the point where you're like "Hey, let's put this scene in the Bahamas for no fucking reason. Why the hell not?"
I really, really wanted to like this movie. Boo.
(What are German POWs doing in an ice cream parlor in rural Georgia in 1943?)