Written by: Joe Lollo
This is certainly reflected in his 23rd feature film, Da 5 Bloods. In comparison to some of his previous works, however, this film is much more subtle with its political message within the narrative.
The film follows a group of African-American veterans of the Vietnam war as they search for the buried remains of their fallen squad leader, along with buried gold, decades afterward. One of them, Paul (played outstandingly by Delroy Lindo), in fact, reveals within minutes of the opening his support of Donald Trump. Even while journeying through the jungles of Vietnam, he wears a MAGA hat.
But Lee pushes past the present to reach into America’s historical treatment of the BIPOC community. The flashbacks, shot on (or made to look like) 16 mm film in a 4:3 ratio, feature many monologues by Norman (Chadwick Boseman), their leader, that eloquently articulate it. Additionally, taking a page of his playbook from other films like BlacKKKlansman, Lee inserts documentary footage of the past as bookends to the film. Much of that gives a sense of chaos at the beginning, involving the audience of the world people lived in during the 1970s, both domestically and internationally.
As a piece of craft, there is much to be admired. The performances, particularly from Lindo, Majors, and Boseman, all feel so good that they may be overlooked by the Oscars (if they were to happen this year). Credit should also be given to much of the dialogue in the film, which presents a very raw, emotionally-challenging image of all of the characters in the film. Lee is also known to change his cinematographer from project to project, this time teaming with Drive cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel. While many of the shots don’t exhibit the frenetic nature of past films, it certainly meets the needs of this story. Outbursts and monologues appear in the film every-so-often and the way the lens chooses to show the characters is remarkable. Another department to be given credit is editing. Many of the choices to hold on characters, or to establish editing motifs give the film an extra attribute. Last but not least is the patriotic theme by Terrence Blanchard which is unforgettable after watching the film. It is safe to say Da 5 Bloods is a great movie from a technical perspective.
However, many issues begin to rise in some of the elements of the story itself. Characters often are given conveniences throughout critical moments in the film. Without entering spoiler territory, there are characters introduced at a certain moment that feet like an attempt to not waste their potential addition to the narrative. The major issue many will have is the tone – Lee is known for masterfully switching tones in his movies, arguably one of the best among filmmakers today. Think about the seemingly natural switch Do the Right Thing made from a “comedy” to a series of race riots, or the quick change in tone present in Bamboozled. Da 5 Bloods doesn’t do it as well.
In Da 5 Bloods, there is an action element that coincides with a treasure hunt element that can feel a bit startling. On a side note, there are many brutal, graphic images that are not necessarily presented for shock value but could easily pull the average Netflix viewer out of the film.Overall, this is another solid entry into Spike Lee’s filmography. Da 5 Bloods expertly touches on issues surrounding the horrors of war, how black people have suffered for America, and how justice can be carried out for all those involved.