Our Take: 4.5/5 Stars
Spike Lee uncovered gold with “Da 5 Bloods.” Dense with history, media and storylines, “Da 5 Bloods” leaves its audience guessing until its very end as it delves into an abundance of social justice issues, cultural references and complex characters. While it may be slow to start, the movie is a visual masterpiece that leaves viewers thinking about the problems that stem from war and racism.
The film follows four African American veterans who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen squad leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman, “Black Panther”) and the gold that they had hoped to take with them when they returned home from war. The quest proves to be less straightforward than they had initially hoped as more people become involved and surprising events threaten whether the mission will be completed. While the groundwork takes some time to be laid, the story eventually flies off the rails and is never predictable.
While the film claims to be an action movie, several of the performances are worthy of the highest-rated dramas. Delroy Lindo’s (“Get Shorty”) portrayal of Paul, a frustrated veteran and Trump supporter with severe PTSD, is extremely moving. As the closest of the four to Stormin’ Norman, Paul understands the importance of this trip, but returning to Vietnam forces him to confront old demons and reason with the past. His relationship with his son David (Jonathan Majors; “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) who tags along on the trip is tumultuous and triumphant at the same time. Lindo delivers an incredible monologue that is a standout scene of the film and captivates viewers.
The movie features creative, beautiful cinematography. Different ratios and filters help the audience discern flashbacks to the war with shots from recent times. The film is nostalgic of 70’s style video cameras and videography but incorporates this style in a modern way. Music from “Apocalypse Now” adds drama to helicopter war scenes. As famous African American leaders are mentioned, like Aretha Franklin or Malcom X, their real pictures flash across the screen. All of these elements make the movie seem like a time capsule of Americana and visually thrilling to watch.
While being an interesting movie from typical standards — acting, cinematography, etc. — the heart of “Da 5 Bloods” is really what makes it shine. The film hopes to shed a light on the disproportionate amount of young African Americans who served in Vietnam and returned to a country where they were not given the same rights and opportunities of white Americans. While exploring this topic, it dips its toes into other related issues: the prevalence of PTSD in veterans, the over-prescription of opioids, reparations, the effects of landmines that are left on former battle grounds and many more. While all these storylines may seem overwhelming at times, Lee is planting seeds in viewers’ heads and exposing how complicated and interconnected these issues can be. They all cannot be resolved in the film because many have not been resolved in real life.
Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is a shockingly human Vietnam war film as it takes its place next to “BlacKkKlasman” as one of his most extraordinary works. While it may be a hodgepodge of genres, filmmaking, characters and themes, it is consistently engaging and evolving. “Da 5 Bloods” shows a different and much needed perspective on a war that changed two countries forever.
Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is available to stream now on Netflix.