Whatever else one might think of Spike Lee as a director, he is not one to under deliver with his films. Da 5 Bloods is no exception; it has a running time of more than two and a half hours and manages to explore an array of facets of the African American experience, largely as it relates to the Vietnam War but also just existing in America. There is no way that Lee could have known it would be such a timely release, except that many of the problems and fissures it explores have existed as long as this country. Da 5 Bloods is one of Spike Lee’s best films.
Da 5 Bloods is about a group of war buddies going back to Vietnam to bring back the remains of their friend who died there. While that is their legit mission, they have an ulterior motive; to find a secret cache of gold they hid during the war. The four of them are joined by the son of one of the four. Each of the old guys has a different perspective and experience during and after the war. Former medic Otis has connections with people who can launder the gold for them; he also discovers that he has a child in Vietnam. Eddie did fairly well after the war, running a car dealership. The driving force of the movie is Delroy Lindo’s Paul, a cantankerous, combative man who still has nightmares about the war and has aged into an angry reactionary. The movie takes its time setting up these characters, letting the viewer get to know them and their struggles as the group begins their trek into the jungle to find their treasures.
Interspersed are scenes from their time in the war. An interesting choice, seemingly at least somewhat forced on the movie, was doing flashbacks to the war and using the same actors in both time periods. There, the fifth member of the Bloods, Chadwick Boseman’s Norman, provides guidance to his friends. The flashbacks not only play with the ages of the characters, they also play with aspect ratio, color and contrast. They are very interesting looking.
Eventually, things start to go sour and the movie goes in a pulpier direction. The group starts to splinter. There are betrayals and misunderstandings as plans go awry. It almost feels like a completely different movie, but one that is equally entertaining as the largely character based drama that proceeds it.
Weaved throughout all of this are insights on history and how African Americans have been treated in this country, about the systemic injustice that still exists. There are also references and comments on the history of Vietnam war films, from specifically calling out trash like the Rambo sequels or the Missing in Action movies, to referencing Apocalypse Now.
While there is not a bad performance in the film, it is hard to overstate just how good Delroy Lindo is in this movie. He is not a likable character; he’s a MAGA hat wearing asshole who manages to insult or irritate everyone else in the movie. But while his anger is misdirected, it is not unwarranted. And Lindo brings the viewer along as he goes further and further off the rails.
There was a lot of warranted adulation for BlackKklansman, but I think Da 5 Bloods is the more entertaining film.