DA 5 BLOODS Review
In a world, where movies are elusive to cinemas, one man will demonstrate the power and importance of film by capturing human characters and human problems and conveying unique experiences. Spike Lee, by way of Netflix, has delivered an emotional, layered Vietnam War film that focuses less on the War, and more on the fallout of the war.
Da 5 Bloods stars Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as 4 Black Vietnam veterans who return to Vietnam to recover the body of their former commanding officer (Chadwick Boseman), and the secret treasure buried with him.
After nearly 25 years since his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee still manages to deliver a film with the same creative energy as a confident first-time director. He never settles into one filmmaking style and while he does have his visual markers (dolly zoom, footage inserts, etc), he’ll throw in a welcome creative spin. He utilises flowing and expanding aspect ratio and camera stock to sign post not just the setting but the genre of the scene. One thing a Spike Lee ‘joint’ can be identified for, it is its tackling of Black issues and pain with nuanced and thought-provoking approaches, which he’s done since his early films like Do The Right Thing.
Da 5 Bloods on the surface looks to be another Vietnam War movie with four veterans returning to Vietnam and confronting their personal demons. Lee even knowingly acknowledges these types of films, with an obvert reference to the revered Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now. This isn’t about how or where these traumas come from, but instead what the result of that trauma can be after 40 years of stewing in it. Lee explores the tension of Black soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War for a country that didn’t treat them humanely, against a country that they had no quarrel with. In one scene, the Bloods react to the news, from the Viet Cong radio and not the US broadcast no less, of Martin Luther King’s assassination by threatening to take-up arms.
While racial issues are prevalent in the film, the real weight of the film comes from its exploration of masculinity in all its forms, both toxic and healthy. The central relationship of the 4 vets displays the typical male comradery with the men constantly ribbing each other while deeply caring about one another. Yet in flashback, we see how little they have changed as Lee casts the same actors to play the younger versions. Not only does it help identify the younger characters, Lee conveys how the vets are the still the same ambitious and broken men they were back then. In-depth exploration of masculinity comes from the shining star, and potential Oscar contender, of the film.
Delroy Lindo’s character of Paul is an incredibly complex character, being a Trump supporter who (as the film suggests) instigated the ‘Blacks for Trump’ campaign. He is so full of pain, having accepted the insults he received post-War as being a ‘baby killer’ and letting the self-loathing stew inside him. This manifests itself in him lashing out at his friends, bordering on vitriolic tirades against locals and in neglecting his son. His hatred towards his son results in his son, David, inheriting his father’s self-loathing. Even admitting that he does love his son is uncomfortable to watch as he struggles to look him in the eyes. All of this is delivered by Lindo’s incredible performance with that internal struggle reflected in constantly shifting eyes and gritted teeth, on show in a confronting confessional style rant down the barrel of the camera.
The characterisation of David, Paul’s son, jarringly comes across as an old man’s view of ‘young people’, especially men. David is not suited for the jungle, being squeamish around live animals and having never fired a gun, much to the dismay of the Bloods. This could be another way Lee explores masculinity and how it has evolved since the Vietnam era. Men aren’t expected to be hardened, gun-toting, survivalists who just love chatting up women. David genuinely looks for a relationship, while the Bloods ogle women at a bar. He contrasts the change of masculinity, but his introduction with a meek, high-angle shot is initially confusing.
While the film has some emotional punch, it lacks in other departments. Besides Lindo’s Paul and Clark Peter’s Otis, the rest of the Bloods don’t get much development or insight making audiences not connect with them on the their emotional closure. Tonally, the film jumps around especially in the latter half to clunky effect. One minute there’s a tense bomb defusal, the next Isiah Whitlock Jr., in a meta scene, utters his famous “Sheeeeeeeeeet” line from The Wire. The film runs for 154 minutes, and it unfortunately feels it. It crams a lot into the runtime, but by the 2-hour marking, you’ll want the movie to wrap it up.
Da 5 Bloods is not a consistent as Lee’s recent Blackkklansman, but at times packs more of an emotional kick. Lee touches upon tired Vietnam War tropes, and instead explores masculinity and masculine relationships, supported by Delroy Lindo in one of the best performances of the year.