At Sant' Anna di Stezzema in Tuscany, Italy in 1944, an atrocity occured when some Nazi SS infantry massacred and burned 560 villagers, mostly women, children, infants and old men, because they would not reveal the location of a local partisan fighter.
Spike Lee has given us his war epic based around this event filmed with horrifying realism. But his main purpose in doing so is to show the contribution of the 92nd Buffalo Soldier Division of African-American combat troops to World War II. Nearly a million African-American men and women served in WWII, but only about three percent were used in combat positions. The rest were relegated to support roles such as quartermaster and transport.
This movie is based on the novel written by James McBride, who also wrote the screenplay. While the movie is a fascinating look at WW II, it is a novel after all. Thus this movie does have fictional devices such as the seemingly contrived acquisition by one of the African-American troopers of a priceless sculptured head that has gone missing from a Ponte Santa Trinita. How this soldierr managed to lug what must have been a very heavy marble bust is just one of the movie's mysteries.
This same trooper becomes deeply attached to a desperately injured Italian boy he discovers. He riskes his own life repeatedly to protect that boy. It turns out the boy has the gift of a sixth sense that figures importantly in the movie.
This trooper and three of his fellow Buffalo Soldiers find themselves entrapped behind German lines. What happens to them there takes up much of the two hour and forty minute-long movie.
Besides the more fanstastic parts of the story, sobering glimpses of racism in the US Army and elsewhere in the WW II South are interspersed throughout the movie.
Spike Lee wanted realism, so Germans and Italians speak their languages and the viewer must hurriedly read sub-titles. Other realism shows the four African-American soldiers to be human with both serious failings and great strengths. The scenes are shot in the same area where the events took place. One does not know, for sure, however, if these particular four soldiers ever did actually exist in some form as such or were modeled upone similar ones with similar experiences.
Overall, I did very much enjoy the movie. I never felt it dragged. It was fictional but not so far afield that I lost interest. Being one who really enjoys history, I did long for more factual material, but such a movie as I wanted probably would attract ten people to the theater in an entire week. I felt the acting was outstanding, even though most of the actors are not those with household names.
I do feel the movie could have been deftly shortened at least twenty minutes or half an hour without significantly impacting the complicated plot. But this is a different kind of movie because it does show the sacrfices of African-American soldiers when most WW II movies tend to emphasize Caucasian contributions.
Definitely check it out if you want to see a good WW II movie or read the novel.
Unfortunately the critics have not been kind to Spike Lee on this film. They call it overly long, disjointed, too many plot lines, and other unflattering things. I definitely did not find it as bad as many of them would have us believe. Afterall, it was compelling enough to make me forget about the US financial meltdown until the movie was over.