Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Chadwick Boseman
Review Author: Tony
Spike Lee does not make films about current events, it just so happens that the themes he covers largely stay relevant due to their controversial nature. Controversial is probably not the best term to describe racism, injustice, or class divide because we should work towards making them a non-issue; the problem is despite our best efforts the pushback from those in a position of power or privilege prevent progress at every turn. Spike’s breakthrough film, Do the Right Thing, hauntingly mirrors the George Floyd tragedy despite releasing back in 1989. So it’s hard to view Lee’s newest film Da 5 Bloods as a timely film because the director has been speaking about systemic racism and racial police brutality for over 30 years now.
Leading on from the success of BlaKkKlansman, a financial and critical success, you would think Lee would have studios lined up for his next project. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s most established African American director says his pitch for this film was turned down across the board by every major studio. Even though Netflix deserves praise for picking it up, the budget of $35 – 45 million is miniscule compared to the $200 million budget for The Irishman. Thankfully, this film has seen the light of day and given us one of Lee’s most layered film in years.
Returning to Vietnam for the first time since the war, four vets from the same squad dubbed the “bloods” are looking to exhume their fallen brother in arms. What they have kept secret is a stash of gold they buried with him as a repatriation for their service and the history of discrimination they have been subject to. Despite an initially joyous reunion, old scars resurface and friction develops in the group. As they delve deeper into the Vietnam jungle, each member is confronted by both the past and the darker sides of themselves.
Da 5 Bloods is a wonderfully entertaining film that crosses genres between a war film, a heist movie and an emotional drama. Integrated throughout is an abundance of heavy themes such as friendship, filial ties, civil rights, injustice and most pertinent, post-traumatic stress. It explores each theme in a thoughtful and respectful way, even accounting for Vietnamese character’s reaction to the war. Largely absent but not completely missing is Lee’s penchant for humour and satire; there are some decent laughs and brief moments of levity, but the subject matter is too serious to stop and wink at the audience.
Featuring an ensemble cast of established actors, the acting throughout is the highlight of the film. Each character makes their mark and brings a fresh insight into the unfolding events. The chemistry between the cast is almost palpable, so when these good friends clash heads and confront one another the impact is powerful and realistic. Standing above the rest and probably any other performance this year is Delroy Lindo’s tour de force as the PTSD ridden Paul. Lindo is hypnotic in the role, both fierce and vulnerable, a man who can barely contain his demons. You can see the trauma in Paul’s eyes, he’s bitter and impulsive. He announces his support for Trump and wears a MAGA proudly. These are Paul’s ways of lashing out at the world.
Aside from heavy drama and excellent dialogue, Spike integrates plenty of his directorial trademarks like historical footage, a soulful Motown soundtrack, a double dolly shot, and breaking the fourth wall. The film features flashbacks of the squad during the Vietnam war, ingeniously shot in grainy 16mm film in a tighter aspect ratio to differentiate from the current day scenes shot in digital. Spike shows such a vast range in filmmaking and creates intense shootout scenes and one memorable moment, including a landmine that will leave you short of breath.
While much praise must go to Spike for adding so many layers to the film, it also comes at the cost of a narrative that feels sometimes disjointed, especially in the third act. We get closure on some characters arcs and the last moments are a gracious nod to current events, but the heist aspect concludes on an odd note where the film introduces a villain that has been absent for nearly the entire run time. Use of real graphic video and photos didn’t sit too well with me. I’m not one to ignore historical events or pull the wool over my eyes, I’ve read about all kinds of atrocities and made the mistake of viewing the footage, but one particular shot in this film has sharply affected me.
A strong follow up to BlacKkKlansman has now seen Lee go three for three in recent efforts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, those critics saying Spike Lee is back, have it all wrong. Spike never left. You just stopped listening to what he had to say.
Rating: 4.25 / 5 Tumblers of fine brandy
We would be amiss to not acknowledge these current events and the fight against injustice right now. We support Black Lives Matter and would like to link some sites to help with current injustices. Also, please share other sites or petitions in the comments below to support the fight against systemic racism.