Racism in Reviews: The Miracle at St. Anna Advance Buzz
As of this moment, Metacritic has Miracle at St. Anna at 23, ranked beneath My Best Friend’s Girl, The Love Guru, and Babylon AD. Rotten Tomatoes has Miracle at St. Anna at 15, making Nights At Rodanthe the more critically acclaimed film of the weekend, and meaning nearly 3 times as many critics recommended The House Bunny. Not all of the reviews have come in, but many of the major outlets, including New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York Observer, and Variety have already gone in on Spike’s war epic.
I have not seen Miracle at St. Anna. It might be the worst movie ever (doubtful), or it might just be a flop (possible). But for it to get more roundly panned than some of the other tripe listed above (and that’s a mere smattering of the surefire formulaic crapfests that will end up receiving a higher percentage of accolades than Spike’s film) made me suspicious, so I read every review that’s out right now, and I found the following 5 things located in damn near every review:
a) Spike shoving the horrors of war in our face
b) Spike’s war movie being too long
c) Spike’s ambition being too high
d) Spike trying to outdo other great war flicks
e) Spike’s vendetta against Clint Eastwood
While all of these could be valid arguments if properly explicated, I found myself wanting to know more, that just hearing these comments isn’t enough to turn me off from the film. The horrors are shoved in my face? Hmm, I don’t recall Spielberg getting flak for making me watch a man scoop up his own intestines in Saving Private Ryan. It’s too long? I’d need more than two hands to count the number of Best Picture winners that are longer than Miracle at St. Anna. He’s too ambitious? I get that, but why can’t he get some credit for his ambition? Everyone praises the cinematography, they say the score is epic, the actors all do good work… so why is this film so much worse than the others? To crush a film’s possibilities at making its money back by slamming it harder than the studio-produced drivel is to discourage directors from making passion projects (and investors from backing them). If it’s a purely bad film with no redeemable qualities, then fine. But no one ever shat on Kubrick, Malick, or Coppola for being “too ambitious”– in fact, some of their best films are undeniably flawed due to too much ambition, but we still elevate them to God status.
He’s trying to outdo other war flicks? This is where my eyebrow raises, along with the Clint Eastwood references. In some of these reviews, you can see the critics smirking, saying, “This is what you get, Spike, for trying to hang with the big boys.” And perhaps he can’t hang, when it comes to this genre… but again, why fault an ambitious, passionate filmmaker for trying? Why does every critic universally sharpen their knives when Spike Lee has a new flick coming out? Perhaps this comment is too inflammatory, but how come recently he gets his best reviews for the films with white men as the leading character? How come Do The Right Thing, in my opinion the best film of the last 25 years, doesn’t get nominated for Best Picture, but the main white character gets a nomination? How come the same year, Driving Miss Daisy, a movie about an elderly white woman and her black driver, wins universal accolades and Best Picture? I’m rambling, and this is 20 years ago now, but when an “important movie about race” finally does win Best Picture a couple of years ago, and it’s directed by an LA-based white man, is that supposed to be some indicator of progressiveness within the Academy, when they still roundly ignore the ambitions of a NY-based black man who’s never pandered and has always followed his passions? Maybe– and I suspect I’m not alone in thinking this– they wish he was more like Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy after all.
This is merely a rambling stream-of-conscious regarding my reaction to these reviews. Hopefully the number will go up when every critic’s review is finally put in. Hopefully the film isn’t as bad as people seem to believe it is. Hopefully even if it is bad, it makes enough money to allow Spike to make another passion project, because he is certainly one of if not the best and most important director of his generation. And hopefully next time, the big-name critics will go harder at a Dane Cook movie that we’ve already seen a million times than at an ambitious, original Spike Lee joint. But who knows, maybe that’s asking too much.
EDIT: If you’d like to see the type of review I’d been hoping to see, read Roger Ebert’s review. He praises Spike’s ambition, calling his passion important, while still acknowledging the flaws in the film. I know one can’t expect every reviewer to be as fair and insightful as Ebert, the best movie critic alive… but one can dream.