Da 5 Bloods is a compelling war drama.
Staring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Paakkonen, Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman
Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee explores war through an African American lens in Da 5 Bloods, ruminating on race and warfare set against the backdrop of a controversial chapter in American history. The plot follows a group of Vietnam War veterans – Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) – who, decades later, return to the Asian country to fulfill a long-delayed mission. The official reason for their trip is to search for and recover the remains of their fallen squad leader and mentor, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who perished during combat. But the group is also hoping to covertly find a chest-full of gold bars that they buried and left behind almost 50 years ago.
To help them smuggle the loot, they seek the help of Otis’s old Vietnamese girlfriend, Tien (Le Y Lan). She introduces them to French businessman Desroche (Jean Reno), who, in turn, agrees to provide his services for a considerable fee.
But their attempts to retrieve the bullion don’t go as smoothly as they had hoped. The friends – joined on the adventure by Paul’s concerned son David (Jonathan Majors) – battle not just their surroundings and adversaries but also end up confronting old traumas and each other.
Along the way, the film contemplates the darkness of warfare and the devastation it leaves behind as well as the treatment of black people in a country that is still struggling with racism.
We find out what led these men on this journey by way of flashbacks which deliver some of the most compelling moments of the movie. Spike Lee’s decision to show the aged veterans reliving their Vietnam memories at their current age (without de-aging the actors) re-emphasises the film’s premise that war never ends for those involved.
The narrative is backed by a soundtrack perfectly by Marvin Gaye’s beautiful music. Historical footage reinforces the film’s salient themes by revisiting relevant moments from the past, an impactful technique that chooses to sometimes inspire and at other times jar the viewers; when you press play on a movie, you don’t sign up for real-life violence, so be warned: there is actual, graphic footage of disturbing moments in history (assassination, self-immolation) that is difficult to watch.
There is, in short, a lot going on in Da 5 Bloods. But the marriage of all these elements isn’t entirely seamless. That, however, doesn’t make it any less powerful. The project makes you feel things – dread, discomfort. The narrative serves as both a devastating retrospective and a scathing dissecting of the current political landscape.
If you enjoy filmmaking that confronts difficult themes and that takes an inventive approach, then you will appreciate Da 5 Bloods. It may not be a perfect movie, but it is, nonetheless, a timely, compelling take on racial prejudice and the bleakness of war.
Rating system: ★ Not on your life ★ ½ If you really must waste your time ★★ Hardly worth the bother ★★ ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
★★★ Good enough for a look see ★★★ ½ Recommended viewing ★★★★ Don’t miss it ★★★★ ½ Almost perfect ★★★★★ Perfection