Before the release of this film director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Inside Man) engaged in a war of words with Clint Eastwood about the latter's lack of inclusion of black American soldiers in his two recent World War II films. Never one to back off Lee won plenty of pre-release hype for his film just by attacking this screen icon. Now with the release of his film about black soldiers during World War II we'll see if the hype was warranted.
It is 1983 in New York City. Government postal worker Hector Negron (Laz Alonso – This Christmas, Stomp the Yard) is several months away from retirement when he pulls a German Luger on a gentleman (Omero Antonutti – Farinelli) who asks him for a 20 cent stamp and proceeds to kill him in cold blood. The murder shocks everyone and rookie journalist Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – 10 Things I Hate About You, The Lookout) is determined to get to the bottom of it.
The all-black 92nd Infantry Division of the American Army is sent out on a dangerous mission to cross a river in the Tuscany area of Italy that is heavily patrolled by German forces. After they are ambushed by German forces while in the midst of their crossing the 92nd incurs horrific casualties. Four soldiers, Private Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller – Things We Lost in the Fire, Get Rich or Die Tryin'), Corporal Hector Negron, Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy – Barbershop 2: Back in Business, 2 Fast 2 Furious), and Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke – Definitely, Maybe, Lions for Lambs), miraculously make it over to the other side of the river. When they radio for support or extraction Captain Nokes (Walton Goggins – from television's The Shield) decides to ignore them. The four soldiers are on their own.
Train rescues a young Italian boy named Angelo (Matteo Sciabordi) from a bombed out house and decides to 'keep' him. He believes him to be a 'seer' and good luck like the female statue bust that he lugs around. The four soldiers happen upon an Italian house that has some electricity and decide to stay there until they get their radio working. Their lives depend on the Italians feeding them and the Italian partisans who are giving them intel. Little do they know that one of the Italians is a traitor and is giving information to the Germans who are closing in.
There is no denying the fact that Spike Lee has a great eye and a unique voice as a director. Most of the time, however, his films are hit (Malcolm X) or miss (She Hate Me). This film was somewhere in the middle for me. There were parts that I really liked in the film (the Italy scenes, for instance) and some that just did not do it for me.
The film is quite long at over 2 ½ hours and certain parts dragged on and on. Some editing would have benefited the film. Many will be discouraged by the film's length. It's quite a time commitment in today's fast paced world.
Another disappointment was how little I cared about the characters. You were not given the chance to bond with them at all. It left me feeling a little hollow. To make this film a success you would have to be committed to these four men and what they went through, but it's not the case. The screenplay and story remains quite ambiguous and does not take a stand. Surprising for a film done by Spike Lee.
Like most World War II films there are moments of extreme violence and gore. Body parts fly and blood flows. The body count is high. It really hits home how this all-black division was sacrificed and was like lambs to the slaughter. What struck me was the cinematography in this section and several others. It was stunning to look at and clear as day. Beautifully shot!
Another strength is that the film does not rely on stereotypes about white or black. There are baddies on each side. White officers who are upset about the exploitation of the 92nd Division are depicted alongside white diner owners who will not serve blacks in his establishment. A fairly poignant scene is when Italians, a German and the black soldiers are shown all turning to prayer in a time of need. We are all shown to be similar rather than completely different.
It is a film which will have viewers completely divided about it. Never a dull moment with Spike.
-Deeds not Words
-Buffalo Soldier Experience