‘Da 5 Bloods’ Movie Review: Spike Lee’s Vietnam Odyssey Packs A Punch
For a film from one of independent cinema’s most renowned craftsmen, Da 5 Bloods has all of the makings of a 2020 summer hit: the film’s up-to-the-minute social commentary will feel prescient to many, its high-concept thrills will delight viewers of all perspectives, and its arrival on Netflix means that no one has to risk a trip to the theater to go see it.
Make no mistake though: Da 5 Bloods is absolutely Spike Lee film. Fans of the director will notice some of his signature moves throughout and likely won’t be disappointed with the results. The movie, however, isn’t just for die hards: a clever plot setup and some star power in the form of Chadwick Boseman make Da 5 Bloods one of Lee’s most accessible films to date.
The movie follows a group of four black veterans of the Vietnam war who return to the country nearly five decades later to retrieve the corpse of their fellow soldier Norman (played be Boseman) and retrieve a cache of gold they had buried shortly before Norman’s death. Each of the four men has his own story and motivations, but the clear standout in terms of both character conception and performance is Delroy Lindo‘s Paul, a PTSD-stricken father who has yet to come to terms with his actions during the war — and if this wasn’t feeling like Spike Lee enough for you yet, Paul is also an outspoken Trump supporter.
Like Lee’s previous feature BlacKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster-type movie — the credits feature four different screenwriters and its screenplay has clearly gone through several reworks and revisions before making it to the screen. The result is a bit strange: you get the fundamentally manic style of Lee grafted on top of a story that, while serviceable, is full of twists and turns that are unlikely to shock any regular filmgoers.
Lee has always been at his best when his passion and style are at the forefront of his work, and this just isn’t quite the case in Da 5 Bloods. There are moments of craft on display that are genuinely captivating followed by set pieces that look like any other heist movie. The result is over two-and-a-half hours of thrilling highs and moderate lows, all barely held together by Lee’s hand.
In some ways, though, this setup works: the plot of the film is obviously inspired by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (one character even recreates the famous “stinkin’ badges” quote), and this traditional framework offers Lee the space he needs in order to make his voice as a filmmaker heard. The film’s best moments are in the pauses between the action where Lee allows his characters to speak and listen to another in a way that genuinely challenges the audience — that these moments are punctuated by action sequences is mostly an afterthought.
Whether you’re coming for the thrills or for the message, Da 5 Bloods is unlikely to disappoint. While it may not have the fury of Do the Right Thing or the smoothness of BlackKkKlansman, it bridges the gap between the two with a fair degree of success.