Spike Lee didn't really intend for Miracle at St. Anna, an adaptation of James McBride's bestselling 2002 WWII novel, to be his next project following Inside Man. After the director scored a double in 2006 with that $89 million-grossing caper and his acclaimed Hurricane Katrina doc When the Levees Broke, he hoped to use his new box office clout to raise money for either a biopic of soul legend James Brown or a film about the 1992 L.A. riots. ''Somehow I got the crazy idea that since Inside Man was my biggest hit ever and had done boffo on DVD, it would be easier to get my next film made,'' Lee says. ''And I found out that that wasn't the case. So frustration set in. I said 'F--- it, let me go to Italy.'''
Miracle stars Laz Alonso (Stomp the Yard), Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher), Omar Benson Miller (Get Rich or Die Tryin'), and Michael Ealy (Barbershop) as members of the U.S. Army's 92nd Infantry Division, a real-life segregated unit that fought German troops in Italy after the country had switched to the Allied side. The four men become separated from their fellow ''buffalo soldiers'' during a battle at the Serchio River and wind up in a village behind enemy lines. There they await orders while interacting with the traumatized local civilians and wary Italian resistance fighters.
Two of Lee's uncles served in WWII, and the director is clearly thrilled to put his mark on a genre that, until now, has been almost lily-white in casting. ''I loved, growing up, to see Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen,'' says Lee, 51. ''But there's really been a bad job of documenting the contribution African-Americans made to this country.''
The shoot itself was no Italian picnic. In mid-fall, the stars found themselves standing in the middle of the Serchio River in Tuscany. ''That was cold as hell,'' recalls Alonso. ''But who was with us? Spike. He was in the middle of the river with us for 10, 12 hours, experiencing the same s--- we were.'' ''He's being too kind,'' says Lee. ''When I didn't have to be there, I got my ass onto some dry land. I'm smarter than that.''
This is an excerpt from the Entertainment Weekly Fall Movie Preview. Click to read the full article.