Spike Lee’s latest film, Da 5 Bloods, released today on Netflix, starring Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, and Chadwick Boseman. Lee delivers a war drama that follows four aging Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader (played by Boseman), and the promise of buried treasure in gold. Using four different aspect ratios, including 16mm to give a more archival look during flashbacks, Lee’s timely war drama pulsates with the same tragedies that our world has experienced this year.
Watch It: If you want to see a well-directed war drama that changes visual framing from one scene to the next, with poignant and documentary-style clips and images spliced in throughout.
Skip It: I recommend Da 5 Bloods as a must-see. If you simply cannot, whatsoever, psychologically handle graphic images (both real photos and dramatized scenes) however, I would recommend skipping the film.
At right around two and a half hours, Da 5 Bloods is a long film. Thankfully, many viewers will not sense its length, to Lee’s achievement. Lee collaborated with fellow screenwriter Kevin Willmott (BlacKkKlansman), and the film is quite well-structured. Though some have noted its “messiness,” in no way could this be in reference to its symmetry, but perhaps for the actual messiness of its graphic material. Within each sequence, Lee and Willmott have offered passionate dialogue, at times reminiscent of Apocalypse Now or Platoon.
Such dialogue is bolstered often by Delroy Lindo, who plays the character Paul, in the lead role. We have yet to know what performances will surface as the year’s best, a year that has seen cineplexes around the world shutdown, due to the coronavirus pandemic. One thing can be certain in the film industry, however: Delroy Lindo deserves an Oscar nomination. Lindo plays a veteran with PTSD and vicious antagonisms towards his son. Simultaneously, his character (along with others) is searching for a buried treasure and is confronting the ghost of a lost friend. All in all, Lindo grips your attention onscreen, and it is one for this year that is simply praiseworthy.
Da 5 Bloods is not without its flaws, however. One of Lee’s greatest strengths is also a weakness. As we see documented clips and images of graphic violence or of past US presidents making polemical statements, they greatly serve to educate and highlight atrocities that have occurred. Yet Lee’s editorial decision to jolt and interject in this way keep it from being a more fluid, cohesive film. In that regard, many viewers may struggle to keep up and follow what’s occurring onscreen.
Additionally, some of the performances simply come off as sub-par throughout the film. Lindo embodies his traumatized character brilliantly. Chadwick Boseman succeeds as a gutsy squad leader, and Jonathan Majors delivers a great performance as a saddened son in need of his father’s approval. But others fail to make their characters as believable, merely appearing as actors on the screen. For some, this may appear somewhat distracting.
Da 5 Bloods, all in all, is a great film. Spike Lee has offered us all yet another gripping piece of art that highlights the Vietnam War and its aftermath from a Black perspective. And because all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter, this war drama is all the more important for viewers to learn, to listen, to absorb, and to take notice. “Bloods” is the slang word used for Black soldiers in Vietnam, who comprised 32 percent of the troops from 11 percent of the US population. Lee utilizes this statistic in the film, only one of many other stats he uses to craft a film that highlights the corruption that has always existed in American history.