There may never be a timelier film than Spike Lee’s newest joint, “Da 5 Bloods”. With the United States more lost and divided than it has been since the civil war, Lee has made a film sure to fuel the fires of change.
We follow the four surviving members of a team of five African American Vietnam soldiers, who during the war came across a massive amount of gold and lost their commander.
Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Norman (Chadwick Boseman) make up the original five. It was Norman who didn’t make it home, and it is for his remains, and the gold, that they return to Vietnam in the present day. What they find is so much more than gold and bones, they find a catharsis cinema has been looking for ever since the Vietnam War ended, and a rallying cry for a people who fought to end their persecution, only to find things worse when they came home.
The Vietnamese being voiceless in films more about their history than anyone else’s has long been a point of criticism for any endeavour into the tragedies of the Vietnam War. It has always been a more than fair argument, but one hard to substantiate due to the high amount of quality most directors produce within the genre. It’s also a contentious point because Vietnamese filmmakers have the right to tell their own stories and not have them cannibalised by westerners. Thankfully I can safely say in the hands of Lee I don’t believe that has happened and instead I think he has made something never seen before from an auteur of his calibre.
The Vietnamese people may still form an antagonistic front in this film, but it is unlike ever before. Here they get to state their point, that American’s butted in where they didn’t belong and killed the mothers and fathers of an entire generation. The age-old American standpoint is also still there; they were just doing what they were told and didn’t deserve what happened to them as a result. There’s no answer to be found here, not when it comes to the perspective of soldiers from both sides; neither was right or wrong. Da 5 Bloods makes that clear and instead investigates the repercussions on the men, mentally and physically.
Paul is the core of this. Through him, we see the toll war has on a man like never before. Lindo pours heart and soul into his performance here and produces career-best work, which just so happens to be Oscar-worthy. Tour de force would almost be an understatement his work is that physical and demanding, allowing every moment of it to be absorbing and thrilling. He’s supported spectacularly by the other four men and Jonathan Majors who plays his son David. Together they ensure the film is spectacularly well cast and brilliantly acted.
As the story goes on, things ramp up in intensity and violence. The tonal change isn’t flawless and the exact moment when it happens is quite jarring, but the film is far too ruthless in its approach to have any time to dwell. The impact of every twist and turn ends up feeling like a full-on frontal assault, and it makes for a wild ride. The messages derived from this are what make it all worthwhile. That friendship should come before money, that fighting for your people should come before fighting for yourself, that African American soldiers were forced to fight while their families were persecuted back home, and that despite that they found the will to keep fighting. It makes for a lot to take in, yet everything resonates and acts as a genuine call to arms, and a call for change.
Visually the film stuns, thanks to the work of Newton Thomas Sigel, who changes the aspect ratio throughout to significant effect and sharply captures the actors in their finest and most harrowing moments. He is supplemented beautifully by the subtle score by Terence Blanchard, which adds just enough weight to everything happening without making it all too much. All in all, the film is a technically sound as it is narratively, which makes it one of the best films to release so far this year.
Da 5 Bloods offers powerful correlations to reality, and also marks a significant development for war films as a genre. Spike Lee’s voice is needed now more than ever, and he’s delivering the way only he can.
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