Whilst only recently I criticised a movie for its ill-timed release, Spike Lee’s latest war drama serves the opposite side of that spectrum. Da 5 Bloods is enriched with black culture. With quotes from the likes of Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr and even a snippet of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement itself. Lee’s historical piece may be more beneficial to the world now, than was previously envisioned.
The Bloods, as they like to be known, refers to the group of men who fought together during the Vietnam war. Paul, Otis, Melvin and Eddie are the surviving squad members, who after decades of systematic neglect, return to the place which once tortured their mind and soul, to unearth the treasures in which they buried. Or as their cover story suggests, to recover the body of their fallen brother and old squad leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman).
We have the hot-headed leader of the pack, Paul (Delroy Lindo). The most affected by the events of the war and struggles to leave the past behind him. Otis (Clarke Peters) is the piece protector of the squadron, and discovers a newfound love on his return to Vietnam. Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), is the clown of the crew with the metal detector in hand, and Eddie (Norm Lewis), who has recently seen his post-war success vanish in front of him. The group are joined by Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors) who discovers the truth behind their return and wants his own cut of the gold. Tensions arise within the group. They can’t seem to share an opinion on anything, and with multiple threats on their tail, the 5 Bloods are left navigating hostile territory with their reclaimed riches.
Lee’s storytelling style jumps from the present day (which this film’s narrative predominantly focuses on) to 1970’s Vietnam. He applies a grainy, old-fashioned filter to his Vietnam war recreation sequences, with a much cleaner, crisp and wonderfully stylistic approach to modern day Vietnam. Whilst many directors are jumping on the de-aging effects, which are now becoming prolific within mainstream cinema, Lee chooses to use the same actors to portray their ‘younger’ selves. Grizzled and completely out of breath. It’s a delightfully unique way of switching things up, and somewhat demonstrates them as father figures to Norman as apposed to brothers.
The old aged treasure hunt is merely a narrative choice that is bookended by poignant (but important) historical damages to oppressive black culture. Influential figures lay down their truths whilst the harrowing footage of years of brutality flick past our eyes. It demonstrates the anguish and pain of being used as cannon fodder for a ‘white man’s war’. Lee’s inclusion of Marvin Gaye’s concept album ‘What’s Going On?’ plays, or is at least mentioned, throughout the movies runtime, serving as a still very relevant metaphor for its narrative.
This is the best Spike Lee has been in years. It’s a brutal, raw cinematic experience that serves as a perfect educational piece for today’s affairs. Despite all the pain and suffering, it’s willing to crack some jokes, that levels out the dark tone this film is wanting to consistantly take. If you’re looking to educate yourself with more understanding of black oppression, you can go ahead and add Netflix’ latest original epic to that list, if not only for that, it’s one of the best films we’ve seen this year.