DA 5 BLOODS MOVIE REVIEW (2020, NETFLIX) with Delroy Lindo, Chadwick Boseman, Clarke Peters Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s new film “Da 5 Bloods” is being called everything from powerful to timely but really the best word I can come up with is a conundrum. The film comes with all the infused anger, political overtones, racial travesties, and valid video evidence of our past ills and of those whose speeches and ideas still try to fill us with a sense of hope while never forgetting that we’re a long way from done. But the film is also hard to watch for an altogether different reason: it comes with such importance and ambition that ultimately just turns to disappointment.
The film looks at four of the remaining members of the Vietnam platoon “The Bloods”. Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) have returned to Vietnam to hike the jungle in order to locate the remains of a fallen comrade (played in flashback by Chadwick Boseman) and also to recover some buried gold that they stole during the conflict. The brotherhood between the men is evident right from the opening scene; these guys seem like they’ve been friends their whole lives. Their hearts are in the right place too as they are hoping to use the money for progressive causes. Why they waited so long to come back and get it is a question but not a very big one.
Of all actors mentioned, I don’t think I’m alone in saying Lindo is an absolute beast here. His character is a Trump supporter but it’s Paul’s still-shell-shocked, totally on-edge-ness that steals scene after scene, so much so that it often feels like he’s in a completely different movie from the rest. As a Trump supporter, the character predictably falls flat, made to take the brunt of the insults about Trump’s character flaws but failing to point out the non-committal democrats who have also done next to nothing. But this is more a flaw in the writing. As a man going through PTSD, Lindo couldn’t be better.
As I mention he’s in a completely different movie, mostly because the rest of these men eventually seem to be in the standard Netflix picture. You know the one. The “Triple Frontier”, “6 Underground”, and “Extraction” movies that find Americans in foreign locations, fighting insignificant stock characters meant to symbolize whatever militia is in the area. As the treasure hunt continues, we see a lot of betrayals and a lot of characters going nuts over protecting what’s theirs. It’s “Frontier” with black soldiers in a nutshell. But a scene where a character is blown up with a landmine looks terribly awkward instead, and the shoot-outs are gory, uninteresting, and feel trivial to the larger picture of how black soldiers were seen in Vietnam.
Peters, Whitlock jr., and Lewis try here. The problem is that once the treasure hunt starts, Lindo is so far ahead of everyone else in terms of development and performance that the rest seem like afterthoughts. They have little backstories like getting a love interest or having become poor but their only real use in the plot is to sit around and wait for the shootings and other action to start. For a movie that started out seeming like a film about men coming to terms with their past, that’s disappointing.
I’m not saying “5 Bloods” is without poignancy. There’s a great scene where Hanoi Hannah comes on the radio to talk specifically to black soldiers, telling them that Martin Luther King has been shot. The reaction of the men as they hear this, and what follows, is the movie’s best scene. Lee also finds footage o Muhammad Ali and King, and a host of others that really bring home the fact that black men were being asked to do something extremely noble by people that did not care about them. Lee also does a great job shooting the flashback scenes in the grainy video. These moments seem almost like documentary footage.
But as the whole, the movie just feels robbed of overall power. It starts getting long and needlessly bloody. Scenes where Lindo talks directly to the audience become distracting stylistic choices, as is the very weird idea of making the four older actors play their younger selves....as the same grey-haired, wrinkled old codgers. In the end, I respect the knowledge that Lee is providing here, but I just think the overall package is confused and poorly paced.