During Christmas 1983, dedicated New York post clerk Hector Negron (LAZ ALONSO) suddenly shoots a stranger wanting to buy a stamp. After his arrest the police search his small apartment and discover that not only was Negron a soldier in WWII, but won the Purple Heart and more astonishingly owns a valuable Italian marble head which has been missing since the war.
Facing the death penalty for the fatal shooting, Negron is visited by young reporter Tim Boyle (JOSEPH GORDON LEVITT) who wishes to know his story.
In 1944, Negron joined the Buffalo soldier infantry regiment fighting the Germans in Italy. After an ambush while crossing the Serchio river, he suddenly finds himself on the enemy held side and cut off from his comrades. A trio of other soldiers have made it across too, Sergeants Stamps and Cummings (DEREK LUKE and MICHAEL EALY) and the towering Private Train (OMAR BENSON MILLAR). Train is carrying the Italian marble head, which he believes is a good luck charm that makes him invisible to the eyes of the enemy.
Establishing radio contact with Headquarters, the four soldiers are ordered to exploit their opportunity and capture a German prisoner. Disheartened by this news, the quartet stumble upon a deserted barn where they find a young boy, Angelo Torancelli (newcomer MATTEO SCIABORDI), who is feverish and shell shocked. Angelo babbles of visions and the deeply religious Train comes to believe the child is in direct contact with God. The soldier nurses the boy until he is fit to walk and lead them to the small village of Colognord. Here they find some of the Italians wishing to help, such as the young woman Renata (the lovely VALENTINA CERVI), who is secretly assisting the local Partisan leader, Peppi Grotta (PIERFRANCESCO FARINO).
Grotta has serious problems with a traitor in his Partisan band while the local German commander, Captain Eichholz (CHRISTIAN BERKEL), has received strict orders to quash all resistance whatever the cost.
As the four Americans integrate with the Italian villagers little do they all know that a strong German force is heading over the mountains towards the small village of Colognord ready for a fateful and devastating clash of arms.
Acclaimed Director SPIKE LEE has made an unusual film here. Part war epic, part social drama, it certainly has much to say about Human attitudes to fellow Man and what happens when different creeds are flung together in desperate situations.
Told in a series of flashbacks, with flashbacks within flashbacks such as the brutal massacre of unarmed civilians at St Anna - in a harrowing scene - or the problems the four black soldiers face at an American diner, the film never becomes confusing thanks to the skilful direction.
The final reel brings us back to 1983 and a little of the court case which Negron faces, giving KERRY WASHINGTON a brief role as defence councillor Zana Wilder.
While there are minor problems, such as American uniforms not causing a stir behind enemy lines, these are few and far between. LEE gives us interesting characters and is not afraid to kill them in swift and brutal ways, ensuring the battle scenes remain quite realistic in a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN style.
Several Special Features are included and all are worth a look. There is a brief Making Of (5 minutes), B-Roll footage (13 minutes) and a collection of tiny cast interviews (11 minutes), while, best of all, The Buffalo Soldier Experience, a 21 minute programme exclusive to blu-ray that includes original footage and interviews with veterans.
While perhaps not the blood and guts action film that some people relish, MIRACLE AT ST ANNA is nonetheless compulsive viewing and well recommended.