Delroy Lindo as Paul
Jonathan Majors as David
Norm Lewis as Eddie
Clarke Peters as Otis
Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin
Chadwick Boseman as Norman
Paul Walter Hauser as Simon
Jasper Pääkkönen as Seppo
Co-written and Directed by Spike Lee
Da 5 Bloods Review:
Spike Lee has always had his thumb on the social pulse and 2018’s BlacKkKlansman saw the Oscar winner and Golden Globe nominee express his rage over the presidency through a compelling true story and now with Da 5 Bloods, his follow-up to the six Oscar-nominated hit, he’s tapping back into his social well to discuss the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement and its timely connection to the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s.
Four African American Vietnam veterans return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and the promise of buried treasure. While there, these heroes battle forces of humanity and nature while confronted by the lasting ravages of the immorality of the Vietnam War.
It’s been a while since a film dove into the horrors of the Vietnam War, both during its time as well as the long-standing aftermath, with Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father doing so in wonderful fashion while Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now will always be one of the most compelling of them all and now Lee’s Bloods reaches those ambitious and emotional heights. Interspersing its modern-day treasure hunt with war flashbacks and archive footage of interviews with high-profile figures in the Civil Rights Movement including Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, not only does Lee expose many of the atrocities the United States committed in Vietnam, but also the timely threads between the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements.
Though some of its social themes occasionally feel a little too on the nose, even for Lee, the large majority of it proves thoroughly moving and compelling. The 63-year-old has always been outspoken in his drive for standing up for important social movements and his films always find a way to meld this into his stories and their characters, and the ensemble of veterans prove to be a group of unique, honest and real people on both sides of the aisle. While a large majority of the characters love poking fun at the current US President, with loving quips such as “President Fake Bone Spurs,” and making speeches stating no African-American voted for him, Lee isn’t afraid to show that there were those who voted for him but that it doesn’t inherently make them bad people. In crafting Delroy Lindo’s Paul, Lee brilliantly reins in his caricature-level creation of characters and instead offers someone audiences can still connect to, even if they do disagree with his political beliefs.
Its wonderfully diverse roster of characters are brought to life with phenomenal performances from its ensemble cast, namely Lindo and Majors. Paul is a tragically damaged soul suffering from PTSD and a struggle to connect with his son and Lindo commits with full force, finding a nice balance between someone easy to root for and someone audiences are unsure of connecting to. Majors has gradually found his way into the spotlight since his debut in 2017’s Hostiles and finds another powerful entry into his résumé with a complex and layered character. The rest of the characters are all given a proper balance of screen time and allows the actors to bring their characters to life, but Lindo and Majors shine the brightest amongst them all.
Social undercurrents aside, the story itself is a fairly intriguing, if albeit fairly unoriginal, tale of greed and legacy. The plot often feels reminiscent of Walter Hill’s 1992 neo-noir crime thriller Trespass and David O. Russell’s 1999 war comedy Three Kings, in which groups of outsiders travel into territories foreign to them in search of hidden gold, only to be presented with dangers from resident groups, be it a St. Louis street gang, Iraqi Republican Guard or descendants of the Viet Cong. But thanks to a script focused more on compelling character development and poignant criticisms of a truly immoral war than a simple treasure hunt, it mostly sets itself apart in a thrilling way.
The film’s only real faults lie with its extended runtime, which clocks in at a whopping 154 minutes. Lee is no stranger to the over-two-hour-runtime territory, with the biopic epic Malcolm X running nearly four hours and ’98 sports drama He Got Game coming in at nearly two hours and 20 minutes, amongst others, but where those films featured a more frantic and kinetic from the writer/director, this one takes a more somber and tempered approach that drags the film down in moments. Even if these jumps back are to allow its characters to deliver powerful monologues, one or two of them could have been trimmed from the film to keep it running smoothly.
While it may occasionally feel like a slog and some of its themes are delivered a little too-on-the-nose compared to his other work, Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is nevertheless a powerful, poignant and haunting exploration of legacy, morality and civil rights that is carried by strong performances from its ensemble cast, marking one of the writer/director’s best efforts in years.