The only other “black” war film I can think of is probably Menace II Society. But I don’t think many Nazis are in that one.
During World War II, four black American soldiers (Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller) find themselves trapped in a Tuscan village behind enemy lines. As they attempt to evade German forces and reunite with their comrades, the four experience firsthand the tragedy and triumph of war.
Way before this film came out, director Spike Lee was fighting Clint Eastwood about how Clint never puts any black people in any of his war films. Once again, it’s just another case of Lee running hos mouth and kind of proving a point. Hence the words, kind of.
The good side to Lee’s direction here is that he knows how to film anything, and make it beautiful and interesting even though it doesn’t all jell together well in the end. Lee has a lot of great moments as a director where he shows some beautiful set pieces, and then bloody it up with some great war action sequences. To be truly honest, there’s not that much action here, but somehow Lee, kept them beautiful when they did show up.
The problem with this film is that it is almost over 2 hours and 40 minutes which means we have a lot of time for a lot of ranting from Mr. Lee, and he does not let us forget about it. I always like what Spike has to say in any film, and he makes some good points about how extremely different people can find themselves pulled closer together through war, but it all gets bogged down by his way of trying to do too much.
The film starts off as a murder mystery, then turns into a combat film, then history lesson about blacks involvement with the war, then a Holocaust tale, then a sentimental unspoken love between two different people, and then a character study. All of this seems like too much, which it is and probably because there’s a lot of scenes that didn’t feel needed at all. I mean there was a couple of scenes where they were just moving the story along, but there could have been more character development to actually have us care more for these characters, rather than just get rid of them and add more sub-plots to the story.
The editing with this film was also a huge problem as well because too many scenes that didn’t even need to be needed, were there and the pace is sort of all-over-the-place. It builds up more and more as the film goes on, which isn’t such a bad thing really, but the problem with that here is it feels episodic like were just randomly going from one random bit of characters to another, and nothing really feels like it even needed to be there because if the crowd was as smart as Lee should have thought they were, we wouldn’t need so much goshdarn explanations about everything happening.
All four soldiers here all played well, but they are sort of like types rather than your average full-fleshed out characters you usually root behind. Derek Luke is strong as the leader, Aubrey Stamps; Laz Alonso was probably my favorite as the sympthatic, but street smart, Hector Negron; Michael Ealy is basically that cocky, asshole-like dude every war film needs to create some conflict; and Omar Benson Miller is goofy but also endearing as the big clown, Samuel Train. The rest of the cast is filled with un-knowns or little names, but they all do good with their own respective jobs. It’s just such a shame that the film didn’t really focus on these characters that much as we would have liked to because we cheer for them, but if we got to know more about them probably, more would have probably been liked.
However, with any Lee film you have to start to wonder, does it at least hold your interest? The question is..yes! I can tell that his heart in the right place for this film because he is paying tribute to all of the black soldiers that fought and died for their country just as much as any other white man has, and just how Lee pulls everything together by the last act, proves that he can make any subject an interesting one.
Consensus: This is a messy, overlong, and way too busy film that tries to be so many things at once and has scenes that don’t even seem like they needed to be there in the first place. But just as messy as this one may be, Lee still pulls it off in the end, with keeping our interest the whole film and paying tribute to some forgotten heroes.