When you are watching a Spike Lee film in the present political climate, you are very much looking forward to the statements he will make against a person like Donald Trump and of course, his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But his new Netflix movie Da 5 Bloods is not trying to reduce the agenda to just political commentary. This extensive rhetoric on black oppression gets mixed with extremely personal emotions of our central characters that fought the Vietnam War.
So the story is about a group of War Vets, 4 to be precise, who came back to Vietnam to find the physical remains of the 5th guy who was like their leader during the war. All of them got affected terribly by the war on a personal level and thus this return to the land that gave them so much pain wasn’t an easy thing. But the Vets also had another mission. To find a huge collection of gold they hid at that time so that they can use it for their own people later. This quest to find that old buried treasure and the events that happened around it is what we get to see in Da 5 Bloods.
“We fought in an immoral war that wasn’t ours, for rights we didn’t have”. This is a dialogue we get to hear towards the end of the movie and it is a statement that has a wider view of the war cry. The guilt inside the characters is personal and political. Delroy Lindo’s Paul will haunt you for a long time because his character has so many layers. He admits that he voted for Trump. He is a broken man inside and he doesn’t know whom to trust. The main reason behind his return wasn’t just for the gold. Otis also has a back story for which he is feeling guilty. And both backstories shows us how the war never ends in the headspace of the people involved in them and how it sort of ruins even their family equation. The story acknowledges the fact that the whole Vietnam War was an unnecessary one and there is that sense of regret in the screenplay.
What fascinated me by the end of Da 5 Bloods was the fact that Spike Lee was able to mix a lot of things in his two and a half-hour long feature film. Like I already said, the movie is talking about the prolonged abuse the black people were facing. Lee goes back to archived footages of Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King to show us that what we are seeing right now across the globe isn’t just an overnight phenomenon. Then there is this emphasis on an extremely personal dilemma of the main characters. The father-son relationship, father-daughter relationship, the haunting past of characters, etc make the movie all the more character-driven. And while the movie happens in Vietnam we are shown the cultural impact of the war on those people. And towards the end, the film shifts to the pertinent topic, which is the Black Lives Matter movement. Lee is using the cinematic language very effectively here. We see aspect ratios changing to show the flashback portions. When Paul is trying to motivate his son by talking about black people who achieved things for America and were never acknowledged properly, he is cutting into a still photo of that individual which sort of breaks the rhythm but does the necessary thing of grabbing the viewer’s attention. The imagery here is stunning especially the landscapes in Vietnam. The music of the movie also has its own politics.
Delroy Lindo as Paul is simply outstanding. He has got the meatier role here as there are so many layers to his character. His performance towards the end where Paul is kind of breaking the fourth wall for a long time is simply terrific. Jonathan Majors plays the role of Paul’s son David who has a troubled equation with his father. Clarke Peters underplays the role of Otis beautifully. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is more like a team member here and Norm Lewis was pretty good as Eddie. Chadwick Boseman uses his charm to make Storming Norman the cinematic mix of Martin and Malcolm.
The package-like quality of Da 5 Bloods is what amused me. The action sequences are brutal, the political statements are sharp, the way the movie looks at the broader impacts of a war on many levels is truly impressive and in terms of craft, Spike Lee showcases his various filmmaking styles in front of the cinephile including the signature double dolly shot. The amalgamation of all this makes Da 5 Bloods a deeply affecting and pertinent socio-political drama.
This extensive rhetoric on black oppression gets mixed with extremely personal emotions of our central characters that fought the Vietnam War.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended