Da 5 Bloods; Dir. – Spike Lee
Rating – “It’s great” / worth adding to your collection.
Amidst all the crazy shit happening around the world, with Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee has officially announced that the Oscar race for 2021 has just began. Yes, it’s that good. This is without a doubt the most high quality film to be released during the lockdown, and it’s steal that you can just watch it for free at the comfort of your home right now.
The film opens with Muhammad Ali and closes with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two legends who are inextricably tied to the Civil Rights movement and Black pride. Lee uses them to highlight another commonality: their strenuous opposition to the Vietnam War. For Ali, the objection cost him several productive years of his career and his heavyweight title; for Dr. King, this new focus was quite possibly the final straw that led to his assassination. The first words we hear are Ali’s famous explanation of why he refused to enlist. The last words we hear are from a speech King gave on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, where he quotes poet Lagston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.”
On the surface, Da 5 Bloods is a treasure hunt story, modelled on the template of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” and of course, as he’s confessed, Spike Lee’s favorite film “Apocalypse Now”. There’s even a nighclub themed after Apocalypse Now in modern day Vietnam, andfilm fan will be able to catch the scene homages Spike Lee pays to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece.
The movie tells the story of four war veterans who are back in Vietnam in recover their friend/leader’s remains from the jungle, but actually they have a hidden agenda underneath that the film reveals slowly. The men, who dub themselves as Bloods, have all got something going on with them – there’s the joker, Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the level-headed medic, Otis (Clarke Peters) and the one who achieved the most post-war success, Eddie (Norm Lewis). Rounding out the quartet is the forceful, hot-headed leader, Paul, played by Delroy Lindo in one of the best performances to come out of a Spike Lee joint. The fifth blood of the title is not Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors), who unexpectedly shows up to join his elders’ crew. Delroy Lindo is just so good in the movie that if he’s not nominated whenever the Oscars are held next year, there’s seriously something wrong with the Academy. He has monologue towards the end of the movie, that was so good that it makes the movie for me.
Lindo’s character Paul, is the most affected by the events of the Vietnam war, the ghosts of the past are literally haunting him. He was one closest to their leader Norm nad looked up to him like a God, so in a way he feels the guilt of surviving while Norm did not. A deep thinker and a shrewd tactician, Norman has taken on almost mythical grandeur in his comrades’ memories. They refer to him as “our Malcolm and our Martin.” When the borders of the frame narrow and the color balance shifts to signify that we are back in the war, Norman is played by Chadwick Boseman , a perfect casting choice that underlines the heroism of the character, who is stamped with the likeness of Jackie Robinson and Black Panther himself from Wakanda. Boseman’s charisma can make feel even the most simple scenes heroic and inspiring.
A strong choice made by Spike Lee in the film is that the older actors also play their younger selves in the flashbacks, he doesn’t cast younger actors or de-age the actors like Martin Scorsese in The Irishman. It’s a choice that might through some people off, but it really pays off in my opinion. It goes on to show how the characters never left Vietnam and have been stuck in time ever since, and also the fact that Chadwick Boseman is the only young and charismatic presence, show how he never got to grow old like his contemporaries, and his ghost really lingers on in the present timeline.
Also another strong creative decision in the film that really pays off, is the decision to shoot the movie in different aspect ratio and and different type to film to give a sense of time and place. The flashbacks are all shot in 16 mm film with an aspect ratio of 4:3 which gives it a documentary-esque feel and the present-day jungle scenes appear to be like 35 mm IMAX film, but there’s no way to feel for me since we unfortunately can never watch the film in a theatre. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel (who also shot Extraction for Netflix this year) is gorgeous and beautifully captures the rich landscapes of Vietnam and Thailand.
But Spike Lee being Spike Lee, this film has a lot to say and it says it effectively. In addition to the verbal commentary about present events vs. past ones, Lee also employs some sly visual representations of his points. David wears a Morehouse shirt throughout his jungle trek and it’s more than just a shout-out to the director’s alma mater. It’s a reminder that the college kids didn’t wind up in this location. “They put our poor Black asses out here on the front line,” says Melvin, “killing us like flies.” With the occasional jump to graphic documentary footage, we’re also reminded that the Vietnam War was beamed into the homes of millions of Americans via the nightly news, forcing them to see the atrocities in such an effective way that later wartime presidents forced a moratorium on images of war, as if out of sight meant out of mind.
You can really just dig into any scene from this movie and decipher meaning social commentary out of it. And which the amount of twists and turns in the script, it sure warrants repeat viewing. It talks about the turbulent times and complex issues Black soldiers faced in Vietnam, commentary on US’s current president, Race issues worldwide in general and so much much more. There’s scene in particular involving Hanna Hanoi and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that sent chills down my spine.
Simply, Spike Lee has done it again – he’s went on and made a very entertaining movie with deeply rooted ideologies that feel relevant even today. I mean, the movie almost correlates to whatever has been going through in the US over past couple weeks with all the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests going on. It’s a very timely movie and at the same time very timeless, so don’t make the mistake of skipping this one.
Da 5 Bloods is now available to stream on Netflix worldwide.
So what did you think of the movie if you have watched it, and what’s your favorite Spike Lee joint?
Do let me know in the comments!