Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Da 5 Bloods
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman, Veronica Ngo
Seen on: 26.12.2022

Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) served together in the Vietnam war. Together with Norman (Chadwick Boseman), they used to be Da 5 Bloods. But Norman didn’t make it back. 50 years later, the surviving four have traveled back to Vietnam with two goals: finding Norman’s remains and finally bringing him home and finding the gold they stole back then. But the first hitch in their plan comes before they even leave their hotel. when Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) shows up. Worried about his father, he has invited himself along for their mission. And that hitch won’t be the last.

Da 5 Bloods may not be Spike Lee’s best film, but it approaches the Vietnam War from a perspective that is entirely unusual in movies, crafting a compelling narrative about the lasting effects of that particular war on the Black community.

The film poster showing a painting of a Black soldier. In his helmet, we can see the four vets that are the main characters of the film, their fists raised in the Black Power salute, and in his neck is a protest against the Vietnam war. There are bombs being dropped on him with Nixon's face on them.

As with all of Lee’s films, Da 5 Bloods is openly political, including documentary footage to underscore the story it tells – a story that seems as fantastic in its plot as it is real in its implications. The story sticks closely to Hollywood tropes, and without the specific context it is set in, you’d probably yawn a little at it, and raise your eyebrows at the ease with which parts of the mission are achieved, and the obstacles they do face. But really, it doesn’t matter, or rather it matters for giving the film a playful note that reminds us that it is still a fictional story with fictional characters, no matter how much research and historical documents it includes.

The story certainly lends itself to illustrate the points the film is trying to make. The chilling waste of human lives in the war itself, lives that were disproportionately Black, though you wouldn’t know it by the films made about the time. The protests led by Black activists against the war. The echoes of trauma and war that are still with the men who had to fight there – and their families, be it home in the USA, or in Vietnam. The film even manages to include the shady or charitable business still done by white people in Vietnam.

Melvin (Isiah Witlock Jr.), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Otis (Clarke Peters) and David (Jonathan Majors) standing behind Paul (Delroy Lindo) who is picking up a gun from the ground.

To say that the film has a lot to say would be an understatement, and it says most of it very well. Other parts felt a little unearned – like the scene with the landmine, or David’s flirtation with Hedy (Mélanie Thierry). A bit of trimming here and there probably would not have hurt, to the contrary. Though the biggest reason I personally don’t think it’s Lee’s best film, is that I think I lack the cultural background as a white European to really get the emotional depth of the story.

That being said, the film brought it very near and, as I said, makes some excellent points. The cast is really great with Lindo getting all the deserved screen time that most other films don’t afford him (and that’s a shame). And despite its substantial runtime, the film is never boring but always engaging and interesting. I absolutely count that as a win.

Paul (Delroy Lindo) holding up some rope he has tied around David (Jonathan Majors).

Summarizing: enlightening.

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