'Da 5 Bloods' is on Netflix on June 12th, 2020.
In Spike Lee’s newest joint, a 154-minute grand war tribute to an underrepresented perspective, a group of black American soldiers travel back to Vietnam to recover the remains of their squad leader and buried gold. Spike partners with Terence Blanchard once again to create a brooding score, while it is his first collaboration with Newton Thomas Sigel, a cinematographer well-versed in war and action films. Where Spike has faltered before in balancing serious political strife with over-the-top or cheesy metaphors on screen, there is no hesitation or displacement in the puzzle pieces snapping into place here. He manages to fluidly combine multiple film genres that he has approached individually before- war (Miracle at St. Anna), heist (Inside Man), and political drama (Do The Right Thing)- and create a master film with even more intrigue and urgency.
Since the story in Da 5 Bloods is quickly established, the film relies heavily on the vet ensemble, made of Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, and Chadwick Boseman; many of whom have worked with Lee before. The character development and acting are most impressive, especially how Delroy Lindo embodies every inch of Paul, to the manic look in his eye as he dons his MAGA hat. Even more, only Spike could create such a multifaceted, “President Fake Bone Spurs”-loving, stubborn black GI as Paul.
Between the trauma of an oppressed people and the physical and emotional trauma that linger long after a war ends, Spike makes a clear and pointed statement that healing can only come from within. An anti-war sentiment repeated throughout the film supplements the altered psychology of the soldiers and their kin: “It’s strange how a war never ends for those involved...still harvesting death all these years later.” In those 50 years, families on both sides still mourn the loss of loved ones while the GIs battle PTSD and confront their own demons. This return journey serves as a reunion, but more importantly, they hope it will provide the closure they all deserve.
The soundtrack immerses you in the soulful power of Marvin Gaye, juxtaposed with the harsh and foreboding landscape. A beautiful rendition of “What’s Going On” shines an eerie light: “There’s far too many of you dying...War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.” The propogandist Hanoi Hannah taunts the American soldiers via radiowaves: “Negros are only 11% of the U.S. population but among troops here in Vietnam you are 32%.” The disparity in these numbers only magnifies the racial inequality of Black GIs fighting for a country that doesn’t respect them.
Along with Spike’s signature dolly shot, his resolute stand against racial inequality and police brutality in all of his films are ever-present. The montage at the beginning of documentary footage not only establishes the tense and violent internal conflict the American and Vietnamese governments separately inflict on its people, it also shows how history repeats itself...and not for the better. His message echoes the current Black Lives Matter movement which is long overdue.
Da 5 Bloods is an exciting, immersive, and relevant film that is not only great viewing, but important, too. It is a grand homage to past war films while respecting the deep personal effect on the soldiers- the mothers, sisters, and activists back home, too.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Nicholas Ruhrkraut (Guest Contributor) - lives in New York City but is a Midwestern boy at heart. He loves discussing everything film on his podcast "Oscar Wild," cooking and baking at home, reading, and traveling.
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