After watching BlacKkKlansman, the images that Spike Lee brings you at the film’s end stick with you. In many ways, Da 5 Bloods is as perfect a follow-up to said film as one can imagine, now starting with the hard-hitting footage of history leading up to the Vietnam War. As these bits of history lead into a story about African American veterans coming back together, Da 5 Bloods makes itself out to be Spike Lee retaining that sense of urgency – even at the cost of some pretty evident self-indulgence on his own end. Yet there’s still something worth looking into as Spike Lee doesn’t ever let go of that same energy as he continuously finds ways to adapt it into the days coming by.
Da 5 Bloods starts with footage of Muhammad Ali, then ends with Martin Luther King, Jr. – two figures who were heavily tied to the Civil Rights movement. But a common thread that they share can be felt in how they reacted towards the Vietnam War, as we are told the central story: one of African American Vietnam veterans who have reunited in order to reclaim gold which they had buried during their fight. All of them play very distinct characters, each retaining their own sense of charm. Dubbing themselves the “bloods,” they consist of late leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Paul (Delroy Lindo), and Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.). In the present, the surviving members reunite in Vietnam, joined by Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors), in order to reclaim the gold for themselves.
Many of Spike Lee’s past influences ring clear here, whether they go from Apocalypse Now or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but in order to create a powerful statement on the unsung heroes during the Vietnam War. But seeing how these people have come together from a shared experience of having lived through the Vietnam War, each one having coped with the trauma that they had endured in so many different ways. Even as they encounter people who supposedly offer to help them on their trek to find the gold, the gold becomes less the focus and rather a MacGuffin, but it also drives the motivation behind how the bloods treat the people who they run into on their journey.
There are many moments in Da 5 Bloods in which Spike Lee uses this template in order to examine the lasting effects that the Vietnam War has left upon the bloods, for it is most evident through Paul – who proudly declares himself a supporter of Donald Trump, and even wears a “Make America Great Again” hat later on in the movie. This role is also a career high for Delroy Lindo, whose pains are reflected best through a scene in which he addresses the camera directly, in one of the film’s best sequences. Lee uses this as a moment to capture what white America has owed to black Americans who have suffered the trauma of having to fight an unnecessary war, and for as blunt as it may be, it only gets the message across effectively, as this also remains one of Spike Lee’s defining traits.
Spike Lee’s ambition can be felt through the many ways in which he incorporates American history into the world that he depicts in Da 5 Bloods, but perhaps it also showcases where this aspect can be a little bit too much for his own good. That’s not to say the film ever gets boring, but it starts to lose some steam at a certain point, especially with all the jarring tonal shifts – which never always work. It’ll always remain impressive that Spike Lee is a filmmaker who continues to find ways to adapt his messages into the present, but there are moments where you find Da 5 Bloods turning towards the clunky, as it also begins to make you feel every moment of the running time.
As far as modern war movies can go, Da 5 Bloods might also be among the most compelling, even though it may be fairly clunky as it doesn’t always work within its “genre” moments. Nevertheless, it’s a compelling portrait of the effect that America’s history would have left behind on black citizens since the Vietnam War, suffering irreparable damages that still linger even into the present. But frankly enough, it also begs important questions that one must ask now, especially pertaining to how much white Americans take from what black Americans have accomplished, stealing their place in history. This isn’t quite Spike Lee at his peak, but in its best moments you find yourself in for something great.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Netflix.
Directed by Spike Lee
Screenplay by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Produced by Jon Kilik, Spike Lee, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin
Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman
Release Date: June 12, 2020
Running Time: 154 minutes