Spike Lee is an immutable filmmaker. For over three decades, Spike Lee has dazzled us with comedies, thrillers, action-movies, and social commentary movies. From Do The Right Thing to the 25th Hour, and to 2018’s Academy Award winning BlacKkKlansman, Lee has crafted impacting cinema that affects us to this day.
Da 5 Bloods revolves around a squad of soldiers – Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin – who travel back to Vietnam years after the war. Their official story is that they are aiming to find their fallen squad leader Stormin’ Norman and bring his remains back to America. However, that is just a somewhat guise, they also aim to bring back a cargo of gold that they had left buried. Alongside them is Paul’s son David who has followed them to Vietnam, which affects their already problematic relationship. The men, along the way, confront their PTSD and the racism they were met with in both Vietnam and back home, as well as the intricacies of the relationships that had been affected by the horrors each of them faced.
Opening with speeches from Muhammad Ali and Malcom X, Da 5 Bloods is already entrenched with an angry but necessary spark. Ambitious and affecting, Da 5 Bloods feels like a culmination of Lee’s work. It is a whirlwind movie – deliriously powerful that sinks you into the almost claustrophobic world of Vietnam. With clear references to Apocalypse Now and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Lee pulls together modern Vietnam with the histories of horror and terror that still stain the streets and memories of all those around.
Whilst Lee certainly should be a contender during award season, so does Delroy Lindo. As Paul, a Trump supporting man who is so affected by his time during the war that he has panic attacks and haunting flash-backs. This is a multi-layered man easily dismissible due to his political views about immigrants, his rage, and his constant mistreatment of his son David (Jonathan Majors.) – yet Lindo taps into the harrowing make-up of a man too gripped by his trauma to move on. In one sequences, he spits a poetic soliloquy but stares down the camera as though he were facing down the barrel of a gun. His trembling eyes, quivering lips, his sweat pouring down his tired and anguished expression all bore into you and will stay with you forever.
Lindo is flanked by other brilliant performances. The cast is great, with Norm Lewis, Mélanie Thierry, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Jean Reno and Paul Walter Hause all making appearances.
Da 5 Bloods filmmaking is smart. For example, in flashback sequences Norm is played by the youthful Chadwick Boseman and instead of digitally de-aging the four others, they are portrayed as they are now. It adds some weight to the memories. The almost messiah-like Norm will never grow old in their life and they sink back into that time over and over again. It’s this type of intellectual filmmaking that adds layers of depth to Da 5 Bloods.
This and the fact that Lee humanises the characters and plot in different ways. Bouncing between comedy and action, Lee makes these men feel real. Lee threads slavery and civil rights to Vietnam, as the four ask themselves who they were really fighting for, and brings it to today as black men and women march and protest for their very lives. The director and co-writer does not stray away from the impact of the war on Vietnamese – an unflinching parade of photos and sometimes just anger at the four aging soldiers keep a voice for the population ravaged by the war and propaganda. This is impeccable filmmaking.
Enhanced by a sweeping and tremendous score by Terence Blanchard as well as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album, Da 5 Bloods is a fireball of a movie. Two and a half hours are rarely wasted, it is engaging, immersive, and utterly phenomenal.
Da 5 Bloods is available to watch on Netflix!