Da 5 Bloods (2020) is the latest joint by director Spike Lee and a film that focuses on the movement of Black Lives Matter, releasing on Netflix in the past week. Directed and written by Lee, this film stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters and Chadwick Boseman. Four African American veterans travel back to Vietnam to find the remains of their squad leader Norman (Boseman) as well as some gold that they hid back in the day.
If there is one thing that everyone is agreeing on in terms of this film, it is to do with the incredible performances given across the board. There is one particular standout though and that is Delroy Lindo, who plays Paul. Not only does it help that Lindo is given so many layers to play around with, not only being a veteran but a father on screen for a majority of the film, but he also has some heavy monologues throughout and he pulls off every single one of them. Whilst every performance here is superb, and I also want to particularly give credit to Jonathan Majors who is fantastic as Paul’s son David, Delroy Lindo may have just given the best performance of any movie this year.
Like with any of the Spike Lee films that I have seen, this one is filled with character development. Lee creates a setting in which you get to spend time easing into the situation and being led on a journey with one group of characters, and it is their relationship with each other and the twists and turns that occur throughout that create the impact and powerful messages that Lee conveys throughout his filmography. Without this character development, the film simply doesn’t work. It is also not forced, giving plenty of time to warm to the characters and see them as they truly are through actions, not just words.
Quite simply, there are some sequences which I will love and re-watch for many years to come. There comes a point halfway through the film where the journey of the film changes, and this could have been clunky or forced. Instead, Lee uses one particular scene (to not spoil anything, I will simply say the word “rope”) to make the transition feel seamless narratively and also powerful in continuing the character development in what may be the best scene on film in several years.
There are some filmmakers that start out with a vision for their career and have certain values that they cherish that start to vanish when they become big in the Hollywood scene. The same cannot be said for Lee as he puts as much heart and passion in this as he did with Do The Right Thing. Each story he tells feels personal and is a story that is not only important to him, but also important to the times. Whilst he may be indulgent in his storytelling and passion, with a slight overuse of montages of current movements (not only in this film, but his previous hit BlacKkKlansman), he earns the right to do so and it feels a lot more important and passionate than other major directors who have the same indulgent tendencies.
With all that said, there are some issues with the film and that does come with the overall structure of the narrative. Whilst I love the character building of this story, it is very slow to begin as it takes nearly an hour to even step into the jungles of Vietnam. Alongside this, there are several flashback sequences that are used throughout to highlight the actions of Norman and what made him special to the group. I appreciate the choice that Spike Lee made here to keep the actors the same and not de-age them, giving it a feeling of them looking back and placing them back into action, I wish the transitions between these scenes made more sense narratively and with a further purpose, rather than just constant reminders to the audience on who Norman is. On a plus note, casting the actor who is well known now for portraying a black hero in Chadwick Boseman for this role is a dream casting if there ever was one, and he did a great job with the role that he had to play.
Due to the narrative having several pacing issues between the slow start and the flashbacks that feel out of place at times, this film does also suffer from tonal issues. Whilst I am not sure if this is the impact that Spike Lee wanted, there is one moment involving a landmine explosion that left a certain character looking like something out of a parody movie, feeling completely unrealistic from what a landmine explosion would actually cause. This is a major moment in the film and yet I could not take it completely seriously, which sadly feels out of place with a movie that is otherwise so powerful and emotive to its characters and setting,
Whether it is to do with the perfect timing of this film due to the current Black Lives Matter protests that are occurring or the passion that Spike Lee puts into every single film that he works on, this film is filled with motivation and a strong message that helps carry this film. Not only is Spike Lee passionate about this project, but everyone creating it is, including the incredible performances filled throughout. Whilst this film overall may feel unbalanced and structurally messy, the passion and love for the subject matter makes this a movie I will not forget about for a long time and that is the test of a good film.
Have you had a chance to check out Da 5 Bloods yet? What did you think of the film as a whole? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.