Directed and written by Spike Lee, ‘Da 5 Bloods’ is a ‘Netflix Original’ film that utilises two periods of time, the ‘Vietnam War’ and the modern day, to tell the story of a group of African-American soldiers who have returned to Vietnam to find the remains of their squad leader and a stash of gold that was buried on the battlefield.
Opening to a series of stirring images and clips highlighting the injustices faced by African-Americans pre ‘Vietnam War’, Da 5 Bloods immediately is established with the tones of suffering and loss. Addresses to the public by Muhammad Ali, Bobby Seale, Malcolm X, as well as photographs depicting universities in which young students had been killed by ‘Jackson and Mississippi State Police’ and even ‘The Ohio National Guard’, are particularly powerful, as they are coupled with Marvin Gaye’s harrowing ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’, which itself is an accurate depiction of the police brutalities faced by African-American communities in this period.
The film then shifts its focus to modern day, to follow four Vietnam veterans as they return to the country they fought in so many years ago. First appearing as a holiday for the group, their motives are quickly revealed to be a recovery mission of the aforementioned human remains and gold. The four men, ‘Paul’ played by Delroy Lindo, ‘Otis’ (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and ‘Melvin’ (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), meet with a sharp-witted local guide ‘Vinh Tran’ (Johnny Nguyen), to arrange passage through to the land in which hides their treasures. They are also surprisingly joined by Paul’s son ‘David’ (Jonathan Majors), who claims he is worried about his father’s mental health. The group comes together, welcoming the new additions as ‘Bloods’ as they too call themselves in the war and now, providing great chemistry as well as drama amongst one another. Old wounds within relationships, especially between Paul and David, are fantastically showcased and depict the toll the war had on the minds of these vets.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this film however are the flashbacks to the war that bounded these four vets together. Lee and his co-writers Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Willmott, brilliantly intertwine these scenes within the modern-day story, without impacting the pace of the movie. Placed in the forefront of these moments in the film is the Blood’s inspiring leader ‘Stormin’ Norman’, played by Chadwick Boseman. These amazing recounts, aided by a brilliant performance by Boseman, enable the audience great insight into the bond and beliefs of this war-affected group, as well further reveal their motives for wanting to bring Stormin’ Norman’s remains back home.
When the film steers away from these moments of brotherhood and instead attempts to add forced drama into its storytelling however, is when the previous segments of interesting character use and development, may excuse the audience for thinking they are watching two different movies. Although some-what believable threats stand in the way of the group finding and returning the gold and Stormin’ Norman’s remains to the United States, the timings of these obstacles in the story are awkward and dramatically hinder the film’s pace. In addition to this, they affect certain characters such as Paul, who throughout the film is highlighted to have ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’, to such an exaggerated extent that the character becomes unrecognisable to their earlier depiction. Thankfully, characters like David and Otis, react to their challenges and the behavioural changes in Paul in a more convincing manner thanks to solid character scripting and performances.
Further acknowledging the film’s successes, the environments chosen to film and the sets built in the fields and jungles of Vietnam, fantastically capture the lush beauty of the country. While the camera work in the outdoor scenes are sometimes less than great, these moments in the film are still stunning and well juxtaposed to the fury shown in the flashback war scenes (which are well captured).
Although Spike Lee’s latest entry to cinema suffers from weak antagonists and an ending that poorly uses the core cast, the great chemistry amongst performers in the earlier acts, brilliant soundtrack, as well as fantastic flashback scenes of the Vietnam War that utilise the wonderful talents of Chadwick Boseman, are more than enough reason to give praise to this movie. If you’re interested in war-piece films with a unique personality, then certainly check out Da 5 Bloods.
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