Sometimes movies give you ALOT to emotionally unpack…
On Netflix now, Da 5 Bloods is an epic look at the horrors of war that men carry long after the last shot has been fired wrapped up inside an immersive black history lesson. While it does get a little long winded in moments it’s perfect for the Netflix streaming service as it allows Lee as a storyteller to get genuinely bold and adventurous in how he tells this story.
Four African-American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature — while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.
The modern age of content and filmmaking is truly allowing filmmakers to thrive by telling stories in ways that we just haven’t seen before. Make no mistake, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods which clocks in at a butt numbing 155min just wouldn’t have worked at your local multiplex as it is a daring, bold and in your face narrative about the tortures of oppression and discrimination that the black community still faces to this day across the globe.
While we’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little long winded, it’s never boring as Lee crafts something that is akin to some of the other great war movies of the modern age that mixes in some classic cinematic desperation of men looking for some kind of redemption with a socially conscience bow on top. Imagine the John Huston/Humphrey Bogart era noir films mashed up with DePalma’s Casualties of War.
Lee isn’t shy on making this a history lesson too which is very needed in these current times as we see these men return back to the land that ultimately broke them. It’s a story of black men who were promised better days in service of their country only to return from an illegal war more despised by the people in their own country then they were before they left.
With the underrated Thomas Newton Siegel behind the camera the film has real scope to it and using the visual trick of switching the flashback scenes to 4:3 from the modern standard of 16:9 allowed it all to have a unique feel which in concert with the script from Lee and writers Kevin Wilmott, Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson allowed this film to feel like the exposed raw nerve that it truly needed to be.
Frequent Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard did yet another evocatively haunting score and as the music of Marvin Gaye was featured in the unique fashion of pulling just the vocal tracks from certain songs at some of the more emotional moments of the film only gave this material that much more of a gut punch. This film is Lee at perhaps his most experimental but it’s also him at his absolute boldest as a story teller. It’s occasionally messy, but it’s also a dark, funny, grim and vital film in a sea of blockbusters that rarely (if ever) explore the broken nature of man and how we often forget about it.
To say that there’s a “traditional lead” in this film would be selling this truly ensemble piece short but credit has to be given to the consistently underappreciated Delroy Lindo as Paul; a truly broken man suffering from PTSD out of a quartet of men all suffering from the horrors they lived in Vietnam and the regrets that have piled up in all of their lives in the subsequent years. Ironically enough Lindo hasn’t been this intense and emotionally invested on screen since he worked with Lee in Clockers back in 1995. He works incredibly well opposite Jonathan Majors as his intensely worried son following his dad and his friends on this journey.
That isn’t to say that Clark Peters, who is probably one of the best and least noticed character actors working today doesn’t command the screen at every turn and Isiah Whitlock Jr with Norm Lewis round out this intense group. Chadwick Boseman as ‘Stormin’ Norman’ in flashbacks provides an genuine stability the chaos that these men have endured and are still enduring as they try to find the remains of their friend and find the buried treasure to give some closure and meaning to their own existences.
This is truly a story of men looking for purpose and peace, and while it doesn’t exactly happen in a prototypical happy way, it happens in a wholly emotional way.
Da 5 Bloods isn’t Lee’s best or most well rounded work, but it just might be his most emotionally relevant since he dropped Do The Right Thing on our collective consciousnesses back in 1989.
It’s the kind of film that will keep a generation of filmmakers going tell stories that aren’t safe, but ones that are bold and brave; that’s Da 5 Bloods.