“Da 5 Bloods”- Movie Review
It makes sense that in the midst of our current wave of racial justice activism and social unrest, Spike Lee puts out his next timely motion picture. It also makes sense that if you’re Spike Lee, and you’re following on the heels of a movie like BlackKklansman, you’d make sure that your next feature packs an even bigger punch.
Those of you who are more accustomed to Lee’s urban dramas may think Da 5 Bloods is a bit outside of his wheelhouse. But it’s not the first time he’s dipped his feet into the war film genre, and a quick scan of his filmography proves that he has actually worked within other genres as well, including thrillers, documentaries, even horror. And the majority of these movies, regardless of genre, have been consistent in highlighting the struggles, cultures and aspirations of the black community. On that level, Da 5 Bloods fits perfectly into the mold. Set in present day, the film follows four Vietnam War veterans (played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to the jungles of Viet Cong to retrieve the remains of their fallen comrade (Chadwick Boseman) and the treasure they’d hidden away long ago.
Here’s the first thing you should know about this movie- it is graphic. Very graphic. Lee incorporates real footage of real people dying, and although it’s not gratuitously repetitive, it rattles every fiber of your being whenever it appears. These aren’t images of gun battles and soldier deaths either, these are videos and photographs of civilian casualties of war, both young and old. So if you’re at all squeamish about things like that, brace yourself. As disturbing as it is, however, its inclusion strangely fits with the in-your-face approach Lee utilizes to tell this story. Artistically-speaking, this is Spike Lee totally unfiltered. His fingerprints adorn every inch of this production. It’s wildly ambitious and fiercely unapologetic. Lee has something to say about the black experience, and he’s determined to make you listen, whether you’d like to or not.
In addition to his out-there directorial style, the plot is wholly unpredictable. This concept sounds simple on paper, but in execution, it turns to be anything but. I had no idea where the movie was going. Just when I thought it was going in one direction, it made a sharp left right at Albuquerque and shot off into a new- but not completely out of left field- direction. The unpredictability does affect the pacing once in a while. As interesting as this story is, the film does suffer from an uneven script. A lot of different elements are thrown your way, and the flow with which it’s presented doesn’t feel one hundred percent cohesive. The structure is a bit messy, and although the third act chugs along at a good pace, there are moments in the first two acts that lag, which took me out of the film at times.
What kept my attention through and through were the characters. Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Da 5 Bloods crew. They’re all very likeable and share a genuine comradery. As the film goes on, some of them begin to unravel both mentally and emotionally. Seeing their vulnerabilities and inner demons creep to the surface gives way to powerful performances. One scene in particular stands out from the rest: Lindo’s character delivering a monologue directly to us, the audience, in a moment of rage. It’s an award-worthy performance, one that I hope is getting the recognition it deserves.
Da 5 Bloods has its flaws for sure, but what film doesn’t? It’s structure and style are a bit messy, but it’s voice speaks loud and clear. The film preus a unique perspective- an unnerving portrait of the Vietnam War as told through the prism of the black experience. It explores the trauma of these characters, putting a spotlight on men who experienced the horrors of war only to return to a world- nay, a country- that offered them few freedoms. It’s a deeply profound film, and while I personally didn’t love it, I loved its ambition. If you think you have a tough enough stomach, this is a movie that definitely deserves your attention.