Da 5 Bloods is a movie about so many things but first and foremost it’s must see cinema. If you’re a lifelong fan of director Spike Lee’s work this is preaching to the choir, but if you’re in the mood for an uncompromising, ennervating and at times brutal yard, take a good look and see “what’s going on.”
Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) have returned to Vietnam to find and bring home the remains of their Squad Leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman). A treasure trove of CIA gold they buried during their tour must also be unearthed, and this financial windfall could change each of their lives for the better.
Accompanying them is Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) and local tour guide Vinh Tran (Johnny Tri Nguyen). Jean Reno also stars as Desroche, a businessman who can help them set up their offshore accounts, and it’s a contact they gained from Otis’ former lover Tién Luú (Le Y Lan).
At two hours and thirty four minutes, Da 5 Bloods takes its time getting to those inevitable discoveries, as Lee is rightfully interested in diving deeper into each of these men’s lives after the war. Getting most of that world building is Paul, a Donald Trump supporting conservative who is laser focused in his belief system, even if it means friction with his fellow brothers and his own son.
Years ago I took part in the Clockers press junket in New York. That was some 25 years ago, but all I remember from that day was the intensity behind Delroy Lindo’s approach to his craft. It was intimidating to see his unwavering approach to creating, and my lazy self actually wished that he would dial it down a notch (my idiocy during my twenties knew no bounds).
That high standard approach to his work is in its purest, downright force of nature form in Da 5 Bloods. Lee obviously knows he struck gold (pardon the pun) by casting Lindo in the film’s showiest role, and he simply knocks it out of the park (a slew of award nominations are coming his way).
The movie’s flashbacks are shot in a grainy 4:3 aspect ratio and the four men are de-aged in the sequences (if you didn’t have a problem with The Irishman, you won’t be bothered this time around either). It’s a stylistic choice that seamlessly fits into the narrative. During my earlier years some of Lee’s stylistic techniques took me out of the movie (most notably that anamorphic lens moment in Crooklyn), but these days I see these moments as expanding the language of cinema.
One of Da 5 Bloods’ strengths lies in Lee’s ability to capture a story in a highly charged and visceral manner without lossing the essense of the story or pandering to the audience. We know all of these men served their country and that sacrifice does not go unpunished, but Da 5 Bloods is not filled with sanctimonious speeches that essentially preaches to the choir. Speaking of music, Marvin Gaye’s seminal album What’s Going On is an integral elemement behind the film’s soundscape (and of course that’s a great thing):
Rather, we are witness to a several minute monologue from Lindo that really needs to be seen rather than explained, and Lee knows that sometimes a long awaited hug means more than a page worth of exposition. There are entire sections of Da 5 Bloods where Lee builds up the tension to the brim, leaving you shaken once the violence actually occurs.
Da 5 Bloods continues to prove that Spike Lee, along with existing one of the most importance voices in cinema, simply knows how to tell a damn good story. There are many layers one can peel with such a well written and acted story, but at its core Da 5 Bloods is an engrossing yarn that is hard to shake.
Da 5 Bloods premieres on Netflix June 12.