With the release of Spike Lee’s latest joint Da 5 Bloods out now, it made me realized I haven’t watched a ton of his movies, but this would change since I think it’s possible to watch those that have been attached to him and cautious about the ones that haven’t gotten the best reputation. This was his follow-up to one of my favorite movies of 2018 BlacKkKlansman, which finally won him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and he can do anything at this point when he’s here to make films that are not only powerful, but gets us talking about certain issues in the current world today.
What’s the Story: The story of four African American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son David (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.
Da 5 Bloods being released on Netflix right now whereas the year is truly turning into an absolute disaster, the world is being on fire after the death of George Floyd and riots are happening around the world, waiting for change to happen where we shouldn’t be afraid. Believe me, being in a world where I have to be terrified about getting killed for doing nothing wrong is understandable. The tension has been real. With Lee’s new joint coming out, I completely forgot about it until the trailer was online a month ago, and I was anticipating what he was going to bring to Netflix, wondering if this move was the right call for him. This would be his second attempt at a war film with black soldiers since nobody remembers Miracle at St. Anna a decade later. What I can say about his recent film is this is worth remembering for a while.
Lee does an excellent job with his directing in what should be called one of his best endeavors yet. It’s a different experience than his previous film, but being hooked is what needs to be acquired to enjoy it. The way he was shooting everything was nothing like watching a drama that’s part drama, part heist from what I assumed it would be, but better.
As much as Lee’s directing is great, it couldn’t have been done without one of the best screenplays this year so far, as writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (The Rocketeer), Lee and his BlacKkKlansman co-writer Kevin Willmott wrote a drama not only unpredictable but made it feel like it was based on a non-fiction novel or something that happen in the history books. It’s an original story, and I wouldn’t even know. From what I was watching, I couldn’t help but think of this as Stand By Me, Three Kings, and Platoon all rolled into one.
The first half is mostly just build up with a lot of scenes of characters talking with a few flashbacks to get us to understand what’s coming ahead. It’s understandable most saying it gets a bit to get going when it’s the right amount of time to get attached to these people. Being that it’s 156 minutes, most of Lee’s movies are longer than expected. Once it steps into the second half of them in the present, it gets a lot stronger and where there’s no way of losing your attention at that point. It’s another film this weekend where it’s well-paced without being annoyed by how long it’s going because I was still invested with how the story ends.
The best compliment I can say about the performances from everyone here is even though I might’ve not been familiar with most of the actors here, you honestly believe these are real people on this journey together. You easily buy into their friendship when they first meet up again and believe they are war buddies for life.
But who was the one you can’t take your eyes off of? That would be Delroy Lindo as Paul, who outshined everybody in his sight. He has worked with Lee a few times in the past, and he was the most recognizable of our main characters. There hasn’t been a ton of performances this year I believe are worth being talked about for an Oscar, but believe all the hype around Lindo’s role because I was blown away by how great he was for a role that relied on him to bring out anything emotional hidden inside out we don’t know yet as a man who’s suffering from PTSD. Look out for a moment where he’s talking to himself in the third person, breaking the fourth wall I didn’t see coming. The other standout was Jonathan Majors as his son David, and if you haven’t seen the underrated The Last Black Man in San Francisco, he is a performer I’ve been monitoring ever since, and he carried his own with his performance, showing he’s one exceptional performer on screen.
The rest of the supporting cast was good, though I kind of expected a little more from them, which includes Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, and Jasper Paakkonen as a group of people who defuses landmines. There was a scene between Thierry’s Hedy and Majors’ David early on that was enjoyable. And there isn’t a lot of Boseman as Stormin’ Norman since he’s only in the flashback sequences.
You won’t be expecting a ton of action even though it’s a war drama, but when there is, it’s what you would expect with the firefights of Vietnam that felt like you’re fighting alongside the Bloods. An element that surprise took me was how intense it turned out to be. Spoiling nothing, there’s something that happened around the middle, and your heart is pounding due to figuring out how this certain situation would be solved.
In going into the technical aspect, Newton Thomas Sigel (Drive, Bohemian Rhapsody)’s cinematography was incredible to look at when the landscape of Thailand and Vietnam. If you remember the trailer and saw that the visual style of three different aspect ratios is used here, it drives the film along in feel immersed enough, where it’s a wide 2:39:1 in the present, a boxed 1.33.1/ 16 mm during the Vietnam flashbacks, and a 16:9 when they venture in the jungle to search for the gold. A part of me was thinking it was going to be pointless when I was in the trailer, but it a technique used really well in here without being distracting.
And it ain’t a Spike Lee film without an amazing score from Terrence Blanchard that’s worth listening to again. A frequent collaborator with the direction, he delivers another score that settles into a scene without becoming overbearing. Does it also include the typical dolly zooms? You bet.
As for problems I had with the film, the long runtime didn’t bother me as it went on, but there would be no harm in shaving about 15 minutes off when a couple of scenes might’ve been a tad too long. And whenever it cuts back to when the characters were fighting in Vietnam, I was confused as to why they didn’t get younger actors to portray the four men nor uses de-aging effects on them. Who knows, it might not be an issue for someone when viewing this.
Let’s be honest about ourselves, the Vietnam war didn’t do too well for anyone who has fought in it, and that goes, especially for black soldiers. What’s the point of fighting when they get nothing in return, and all they get is to be killed or be discriminated against? Why do our duty when most didn’t want to in the first place? The reason these four returned to bring those gold bars back is to pay back those who lost during the war. After watching this, I never knew about this, and it made me anger why America can’t live through peace without those being idiots. Like our pivotal characters, even though the war is over, it can never be forgotten for anyone who fought in one, either reality or mentality. This was made as a response to what’s going on in the world, which Lee does when you look at his filmography about tackling race, but here’s is another example when thinking out what he’s saying about society in the past and right now.
I didn’t know what to expect from Da 5 Bloods, and I really dug it to say it’s worth watching, along with the excellent black movies currently available on Netflix. It’s overlong, for sure, but Lee’s latest joint happens to be his most mature effort with his beautiful direction, great ensemble, especially an Oscar-worthy performance from Lindo, and a captivating story that could’ve been true, for all I know.