Da 5 Bloods, 2020.
Directed by Spike Lee.
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Jean Reno, Jonathan Majors, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, Mélanie Thierry, Norm Lewis, and Van Veronica Ngo.
Four African-American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen Squad Leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.
Black people have been suffering at the hands of America before it was even America, as one character points out that the first person murdered during the Boston Massacre was the African-American Crispus Attucks. Spike Lee films are often not just about race relations, they are just as much fascinating history lessons on racism itself. He’s an angry filmmaker that backs up his outrage with either unknown or sadly forgotten context that elevates his impassioned storytelling, involving characters often struggling to navigate a world that just doesn’t care about them when they absolutely should matter.
To great surprise, Spike Lee’s latest joint, titled Da 5 Bloods, focuses on a complex Black G.I. Vietnam War veteran that now proudly sports one of those hideous MAGA hats and is vocal regarding his support for President Donald Trump. One of Spike Lee’s greatest triumphs as a filmmaker (aside from this movie in general), is painting such a character with such detail that there are genuine sympathy and empathy for this broken human being that is everything from in denial to his PTSD to transformed into a paranoid and selfish human being swept up in not necessarily greed, but taking what he believes to be his financially and not letting America fuck him over again. Who are we (especially myself as a white writer) to deny him that? America has made false promises to African-Americans regarding freedom and the dismantling of systemic racism (a topic now more pertinent than ever) time and time again, sending Black people over to Vietnam in droves as punishment for rising up.
The money comes in the form of buried gold back in Vietnam; stolen goods hidden away during the actual war by the squad (led by Chadwick Boseman’s Norman, as wise in Black culture and history as he is a skilled fighter and leader) meant to be recovered at a later date. Specifically, the present day as the reunited squadmates have uncovered the location of the treasure. The journey also involves paying respects to the killed in action Norman, bringing his remains home.
4 Bloods remain, and while the entire quartet has camaraderie, Spike Lee is more interested in juxtaposing the Trumper with compassion, something that remains within his harrowed brothers. Delroy Lindo (a notable character actor that has worked with Spike Lee before) is undeniably Oscar-worthy here as Paul, taking the hatred that red hat represents and not letting it define the character as a one-dimensional nasty person; he’s perpetually grieving and stricken with guilt, he refuses to see help over the horrific experiences of war and wants a break in life. As Da 5 Bloods progresses, all of these elements are amplified and bolstered eventually leading to a knockout emotional payoff.
Heating tensions up is his son David (a remarkable Jonathan Majors, who deserves some awards love that he wrongfully didn’t receive for The Last Black Man in San Francisco), a Black culture teacher that pretty much goes against everything his father currently believes., unexpectedly showing up under the impression that his father is not only broken but has finally lost all of his marbles. It all makes for another compelling layer to Paul, who threatens to disown his own son just about as much as he becomes increasingly paranoid over the Vietnamese citizens, tour guides, hell, anyone that might come between them and the gold or bring racial tensions back to the surface. War never ends, and that is palpable here.
Aside from serving as the antithesis to Paul, Otis (Clarke Peters) has his own side story involving a Vietnamese woman he had sexual relations with and a child that he has never met. It’s made apparent that due to her interracial inception, she has been a black sheep her entire life with obscene ridicules directed her way. It’s actually the one element I wish Spike Lee gave a little bit more time to, even if it does have a rewarding conclusion. It’s already impressive how much is juggled here without feeling imbalanced, and that’s without even mentioning the mind and bomb activists the group comes across. Jean Reno also plays a clearly obvious villain from the get-go looking to capitalize on the situation for his own monetary gain, although he is more energized and devilish here than in years.
Da 5 Bloods is just as much an action flick as it is a deeply provocative commentary on race and war. There is a tense sequence involving leftover explosives that is perfectly directed and impossible to look away from. On that note, there’s a lot to praise from the direction of Spike Lee, whether it be from shifting aspect ratios for the battle flashbacks, the beautiful photography that places viewers inside the country, and homages to war epics such as Apocalypse Now. He also never loses sight of the bigger picture even when things have boiled down to another smaller-scale war. Da 5 Bloods is a vital piece of art that transcends claims such as being one of the best movies of the year. It is absolutely that, and a necessary tool to broaden perspectives and thoughts on both race and war alike.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com