‘Da 5 Bloods’ Boasts A Career-Best for Delroy Lindo in Spike Lee’s Impactful Film – Review
Being that this is the first war movie from director Spike Lee since his criminally underrated Miracle at St. Anna, Da 5 Bloods has a lot to live up to. Aside from high anticipation from cinephiles, this movie’s release during the historic Black Lives Matter movement leaves a lot to be expected from the radically pro-Black filmmaker. Furthermore, this movie’s Vietnam War-centric premise undoubtedly overlaps the conflict in Vietnam and the growing Civil Rights movement in the States during the late 1960s/early 1970s would play a big role in this new Netflix Original.
Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods follows four Black Vietnam War veterans who go back nearly fifty years after to find buried gold they stashed away during the war. The movie opens with a bold opening sequence that compiles striking archival footage that summarizes the era of the Vietnam War from the perspective of Black leaders like Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and more. This montage is indicative of the theme presented throughout the entirety of the piece; what does a pro-Black Vietnam War film look like?
In the case of Da 5 Bloods, it essentially is Girls Trip meets Apocalypse Now. Much of the first act is dedicated to the four guys and the dynamics of their relationships with each other and with the war in general. Otis (Clarke Peters) is the wise, lovable one in the group who set up the trip to both collect the gold and to answer for consequences he never addressed during his time in Nam. Eddie (Norm Lewis) is the wealthy businessman who finances the trip, and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is the snarky comedian of the group. Lastly, legendary character actor Delroy Lindo gives a career-best performance as Paul – a MAGA hat-wearing, PTSD-stricken vet who slowly devolves into insanity the deeper the group gets into the jungle.
Paul’s PTSD is so severe that his son David (Jonathan Majors) comes on the venture to watch over his dad. Paul is the most broken in the crew because he witnessed the death of the group’s squad leader “Stormin’ Norman” (Chadwick Boseman) during the war. Paul looked up to Norman in a very idolized light, as Norman would preach the gospel of Black power to his squad. The way that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X gave Black America something to believe in, Stormin’ Norman gave his crew a Black revolutionary to look up to. Paul, Otis, Melvin, Eddie, and Stormin’ Norman were connected by the blood they shed together, hence Da 5 Bloods. So, besides the gold, the crew came to dig up, they also came to collect the remains of Stormin’ Norman.
Spike Lee devotes much of the attention to Delroy Lindo’s masterclass acting. His character presents the most conflict to the group, as his maniac, psychopathic behavior often leads to more trouble than good. I cannot imagine any awards contention conversations that do not include Lindo, as he anchors the chaotic and severely tragic nature of this movie through his eyes, his movements, and his presence on-screen.
Along the way, the Bloods encounter betrayal, backstabbing, and secrets amongst their mission, which begins to unravel their relationship. The plot thickens as they encounter a small group of French landmine detectors (Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen) who are looking to clean up the remaining mines sprinkled across the war-torn country. All of this conflict and diverging storylines comes at the cost of the movie’s pacing. The 2-hours 35-minute runtime is lengthy and would have benefitted from condensing certain moments. Nevertheless, all of the plotlines converge into an epic, action-packed finale.
The cinematography is stellar throughout. The massive wide shots create that illusive epicness audiences have come to expect from timeless war movies like Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, and more. Much of the aesthetic is aided by the purposefully maculate production design that adds to the gritty, visceral realism portrayed in the movie. And, without knowing any production budgeting details, this certainly feels like Spike Lee’s biggest movie. Moreover, much like 2019’s The Irishman, Da 5 Bloods feels so authentic and true to the director’s vision that I can’t help but applaud Netflix for allowing untethered creative control.
Spike Lee utilizes all of the tools in his toolbox to make this movie great. From directing breathtaking performances from a squad of the veteran character actors to addressing the societal/personal repercussions of the war to the tense, suspenseful environment around a modern-day Vietnam, Spike Lee elevates what could’ve been a standard adventure movie into an impactful, abrasive story of loss, triumph, and self-discovery. Although, it is not perfect, Da 5 Bloods is worth the watch.
Da 5 Bloods is available on Netflix June 12.