Da 5 Bloods | Spike Lee | June 12, 2020

Spike Lee always finds a way to tap into the public consciousness making politically aware and relevant films with timely release dates that are bound to make you uncomfortable – and for good reason. This was certainly the case with Lee’s 2018 release BlacKkKlansman and Lee once again takes a look at America’s past and present with passion and vigor in his latest “joint”, Da 5 Bloods.

Lee kicks things off with real-life footage of Muhammad Ali while eventually working in footage from the Vietnam War and many of the horrific atrocities, many of which are as tough to watch as one would expect. This sets the tone when we meet four African-American veterans (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who reunite and return to Vietnam in the present day.

This isn’t a vacation, but a trip that serves a purpose grandiose and meaningful to them on both an economical and spiritual level. They return to Vietnam to bury their fallen squad leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) who helped them find a buried treasure during the war, as well as to recover the treasure.

While the reunion is sweet at first, things get rocky with Paul (Lindo) who is still suffering the longlasting effects of PSTD and is very much haunted by the loss of Norman even after all these years. Joining him on the trip is his son David (Jonathan Majors) who helps connect the old generation to the new.

What starts off as a sort of thematically rich heist film of sorts reaches deep into Lee’s always ready pocket of political commentary and rich themes that are bound to make a lot of Americans do some thinking inwards. Paul is African-American and a Trump-supporting Republican, sporting an ever-familiar red MAGA hat, which his fellow Bloods detest. We see the impact that the war had on these men who share the burden of having fought in an unjust war and losing their friends, while also coming home and experiencing the racial injustices that still plague our “great” nation, even in the same week that Lee released this new joint onto Netflix.

Da 5 Bloods runs 2 1/2-hours; its screenplay – from Lee, Danny Bilson, Kevin Willmott, and Paul De Meo – has a lot on its mind. Lee eventually runs away from the heist plot, and it becomes a modern-day Vietnam War of ethics, morals, and injustice all rolled into one. It’s not always focused and it gets a bit too far off the path for its own good. But the themes and subtext are strong as the best Lee films are and there are some powerful, unshakable, and disturbing moments, even though they are quite literally telegraphed a mile away.

The anchor of the film is Lindo’s performance, who has surely skyrocketed into the awards conversation (if they will even happen next year). He delivers the first truly Oscar-worthy performance of the year, the sort of haunting display that arrives like a shock to the system, the glue that holds it all together. That’s not to say that the rest of the film is shy of other great performances; it’s quite the contrary. Peters, Lewis and Whitlock Jr. all have their own moments to shine, as does the rising talent that is Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco), along with Johnny Nguyen, Mélanie Thierry, and Chadwick Boseman all leave a strong lasting impression, with the latter sharing one of the film’s most poignant moments with Lindo.

There are the expectations that come with Lee’s films – the politically charged timely sentiment, the powerful score from Terence Blanchard, and one of his infamous dolly shots. That’s not to mention some fantastic cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel and clever use of isolated vocals from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. While Da 5 Bloods sometimes gets away from itself and feels like it’s trying to be a few different things at once in both style and tone, it still reins it all in enough to make its point, one that surely doesn’t hurt by today’s political climate. But even taken at face value, this is a film that has a lot to say and it will give you plenty to think about long after you log out of Netflix.

Rating: 8.0/10


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