Da 5 Bloods is one of the latest original films from Netflix, directed by Spike Lee. Just got done watching it and I have to say, it was pretty decent for the most part.
I have to admit, I have a very complicated relationship with the director, Spike Lee. Granted, I’ve only seen a couple of his films, which were BlacKkKlansman and his 2013 remake of the 2003 Korean film Oldboy. But those two films and his everyday rhetoric in interviews and such has made me have very mixed opinions on the man. For the most part, I really enjoyed BlacKkKlansman. But I’ll get into the things I didn’t like about that film near the end of this review as it also relates to things I didn’t like about this film.
The original Oldboy is one of my favorite films and probably my favorite foreign film. For some reason, Spike Lee tried to make an American version of it with Josh Brolin and it was just awful. Never before have I seen a perfect example of Hollywood taking such a perfect thing and ruining it in the most basic, stupid action-flick way.
So, yeah, needless to say, I was a little skeptical going into this film. But at the same time, I was pretty excited as I was intrigued by the subject matter and I knew that Spike Lee can be good. So I knew this was a gamble, but I ended up being very entertained.
Da 5 Bloods is a film about four African-American Vietnam War vets who reunite for a visit back to modern-day Vietnam. You don’t really know why they’re there at first until later with the help of flash-backs. During a mission in the war, the squad of friends come across some gold from the US that I believe was supposed to be given to allies in Vietnam. Influenced by their squad leader, Norman, they take the gold for themselves and bury it, promising to come back for it. However, before they were able to return back home, Norman ended up getting killed in action and buried there in Vietnam. Now, years later, the four vets return as older men to reclaim their lost treasure and come back home with the remains of their former leader. What ensues in this escapade is littered with crossroads, internal conflict, violence, and retribution.
Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin are also joined by Paul’s son, David, who tricks his way into joining the group’s hunt. The tension between the father and son duo is pretty evident in the beginning and it becomes clear that Paul is a troubled man and was seemingly most negatively affected by the death of Norman. As the group of old friends continue on, tension amongst the group rises as they face the ghosts of their traumatic past.
One of the biggest problems with this film was its first act. The dialogue seems really unnatural and very awkward. The tone of the film also seems a bit unclear as you have some comedic elements in some scenes. But then we cut to some flashbacks to the war with scenes that almost feel like they’re scenes from a 70s-80s action TV show. There are also some slightly shoe-horned sequences where they tell elements of black history and they’ll sometimes cut to actual historical pictures with some information. I have no problem with black history. It’s just that I feel like it messed up the flow of the film, making it seem more like an educational video than a movie.
All these things get better—or at least less noticeable and jarring—as the film goes on, especially in Act Two. By Act Two, the plot really starts to get going, and the film becomes much more enjoyable. Tensions start to rise, and I really like how this was portrayed. You know how close the group is, and it’s really interesting to watch how difficult it is for them as distrust begins to surface. And I won’t spoil anything, but the story becomes anxiety-inducing as it goes on, and those are some of my favorite parts of the film.
Act 3 starts to drag the film a bit and makes it feel a bit longer than it should be. But it is somewhat a satisfying conclusion to the story, so I’ll give it that. The little twists that are added also make the ending very interesting.
The main driving forces of this film are the five main characters, who are brought to life by great performances. In fact, I feel like the acting was my favorite part of the film. Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. did a fantastic job at playing friends who have known each other for years. Despite the awkward dialogue, there is genuine chemistry.
Jonathan Majors also did a nice job as Paul’s son, David. I didn’t think he was amazing, but I did like the dynamic between him and Delroy Lindo.
Chadwick Boseman also makes some appearances in the flashback scenes as the squad’s former leader Norman (or Stormin’ Norman). I’ve liked Boseman in pretty much everything I’ve seen with him in, and he definitely nails the inspiring leader role. I really liked his character and appreciated the way that he led his men, not just as soldiers but as African-American men. There’s a very cool scene with him when the soldiers find out that Martin Luther King, Jr. had just been assassinated.
Delroy Lindo is definitely the star of the show. I’d say his was an Oscar-worthy performance and one of my favorites of this year. Paul’s character troubled and confused because he was the closest to Norman. He’s angry and traumatized by the death of his friend and leader and the horrors of the Vietnam war and suffers from PTSD. His story becomes very emotional as he goes further downhill. Lindo does a fantastic job of portraying this.
The cinematography is done well in this scene. One noticeable creative choice in this film is to differentiate the scenes set in present-day and the scenes that were flashbacks by having the present-day scenes be in widescreen and the flashbacks be in a 5:4 aspect ratio. It’s very interesting and appropriate.
The soundtrack is fine, very pretty at times. But I feel like it was often a bit too grandiose, especially during intense moments which I feel could’ve been better without any music. The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan has no music and that made it a lot more dramatic.
Another one of the biggest problems I have with this film—and this is a big problem I have with Spike Lee—is the blatant underlying message of anti-Trumpism. Say what you want about Trump and what your political beliefs are, that’s fine. I don’t care. But there are a lot of great conversations that can be had about this film and the subject of the Vietnam War and how that affected black soldiers. And once you bring in some anti-Trump symbolism into the film, you alienate the Trump-supporting audience (which makes up about 50% of American voters) and, therefore, push them out of the conversation. And while I appreciate that they actually made one of the main characters, Paul, a MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter—literally, he actually wears a MAGA hat throughout the film—it doesn’t help anything that they made him out to be a clearly mentally troubled person.
Like I said earlier, I enjoyed BlacKkKlansman for the most part. It was a very interesting look into the life of Colorado Springs PD’s first African-American detective who goes on a mission to expose the KKK. Very entertaining. However, it got kinda ruined for me when they shoe-horned in footage of President Trump and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which had nothing to do with the events of the film. My criticisms for that film are the same as for this one.
Overall, I still did enjoy this film and got a lot out of it. If you can get passed the anti-Trump rhetoric and symbolism and aren’t too easily affected by graphic violence (especially in the real footage they show), I’d highly recommend this film!
Episode 011 | Say Goodnight Kevin Podcast
Tyler Smith, film critic, podcast host, and director of the film “Reel Redemption”, joins Kevin for an exciting conversation about the history of Christian film and the state it is in today.