Review by Sean Boelman
The newest joint from the beloved and incendiary auteur Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods gives a voice to a group of veterans whose experiences so often go unheard in the media. But as is par for the course for Lee’s recent work, he takes this historical storyline and ties it to modern social issues in a fascinating and thought-provoking way.
The movie follows four African-American veterans who return to Vietnam searching for a stash of gold that they hid along with their fallen squad leader, whose remains they also hope to return to his family. It may not be the most original storyline (there are some overt homages to Apocalypse Now and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), but the angle which Lee and his co-writers take is undeniably topical.
Fans of Lee won’t be surprised to see some of the more overt jabs that Lee takes at the status quo. There’s a (very funny) recurring gag including “Make America Great Again” hats, among other jokes made at the expense of Trump supporters. That said, arguably the most impactful moments in the film are those that address the African-American community coming together in the face of adversity, a topic which is timely now more than ever.
Part of what makes the movie so effective is the excellent relationship it builds between the four leads. All four actors — Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, and Norm Lewis — do a great job and have excellent chemistry together, but Lindo in particular is a standout with a performance that is wonderfully nuanced and emotional. He has a few soliloquies in the film that are amazing and will stand out among the year’s best scenes.
At over two and a half hours, the movie does run a bit long, and there are some obvious areas that could have been slimmed down. A storyline involving a mine clearance organization falls flat, and the external conflict of a group of Vietnamese mercenaries looking for the same gold feels forced.
This time could have been better used serving other storylines that are underdeveloped, such as the relationship between Lindo’s character and his son (played by the always excellent Jonathan Majors) or the flashbacks featuring the four characters with their squad leader (a sadly underused Chadwick Boseman). Still, the film never fails to entertain, and it consistently has the emotional impact that Lee intends.
The movie features many of the techniques that Lee has been experimenting with in his recent films, and while that does lead to it feeling like a Spike Lee greatest hits collection, it proves that the director still has plenty to say and knows how to say it. The soundtrack featuring music by Marvin Gaye is also a killer.
Da 5 Bloods may not be quite as outside-the-box as some of Lee’s most iconic joints, but he’s still a brilliant filmmaker, and it shows. This is a riveting and timely watch, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to boot.
Da 5 Bloods streams on Netflix beginning June 12.