Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr and Chadwick Boseman.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul de Meo and Kevin Willmott.
From one of the greatest directors working today, Spike Lee presents his new film ‘Da 5 Bloods’ in collaboration with streaming giant Netflix. Changing between a backdrop of present-day Vietnam and its war torn counterpart of the 1970’s, the film follows the experiences of a group of black soldiers who refer to themselves as ‘Da 5 Bloods.’ Through the camera lens, we are able to witness how the war has affected them as they grow older and adapt to the contemporary American landscape, whilst they also reflect on their time in the war, after being drawn back to find a secret treasure that they hid as young soldiers, many years ago.
One of the many things that Spike Lee is great at is giving a voice to those who are often silenced in history, and this film is no exception. He employs still images of various historical black figures and soldiers who impacted American history, but are no longer provided the remembrance that they deserve. This demonstrates to his audience that the events of the story are not as fictitious as they may first appear. Although this technique does prove useful to better engage the audience with the type of oppression experienced by our lead characters and others who contributed to the war efforts in similar ways, the jarring nature of the images can feel as if it distracts from the film’s narrative, as well as leaning towards exploitative cinema in the way that the real life murders shown on-screen feel as if they infringe on the dignity of the victims that suffered these tragic fates during the Vietnam conflict. Of course it’s important to ensure that the innocent people caught up in the violence are remembered, but by showing their murder to do this takes away any of their own personality, and uses them simply as another victim of conflict.
Between tackling the involvement of the US in the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement, the current US political landscape, a heist-style narrative, the reunion of old friends and a developing father-son relationship, ‘Da 5 Bloods’ packs a lot into it’s two-and-a-half hour runtime. However, the varied amount of grandeur each of these stories provide can often feel slightly contradictory when the film attempts to build to more climactic scenes. For example, a boat ride where tensions are rising between a father and a son is set to Richard Wagner’s grand piece ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in a clear homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Vietnam film, ‘Apocalypse Now.’ However, as the conflicting elements of ‘Da 5 Bloods’ story at this point are purely emotional, the shots of a boat slowly travelling downstream feels fairly underwhelming when set to Wagner’s piece, especially when compared to the iconic helicopter ride into battle that the scene is paying tribute to. There are moments of greatness within the film, but especially within the first hour-or-so they are few and far between, which may be a result of the amount of exposition the narrative requires to set up it’s later events, due to the wide range of issues being tackled.
Although it does take a little while for the film to develop its lead characters and their relationships between one and another, the acting really does get better as the film goes on, especially in Delroy Lindo’s case. His role as a man traumatised by what he has seen in the war encourages hatred to shine through, and becomes increasingly clearer and more dangerous as the film goes on. As the story develops, his rush towards violence in situations becomes more and more frequent, reflecting the impact the Vietnam War has had on his life. Lindo does an incredible job at portraying this unpredictability, and accompanied with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s camerawork, the intensity of the character directly confronts the audience and ensures that you’re appreciating the horrors that these men have suffered.
‘Da 5 Bloods’ feels like a great progression in Lee’s career. With his hands on a bigger budget and a wider audience than ever, he’s able to use his platform to spread ideas and attitudes that educate those watching – one of the most important elements of cinema. Although the film can feel like a slight mess in places, the overall story is intriguing and the way events play out grips the viewer, ultimately coming together to create a film that deserves to be seen.