“Da 5 Bloods”, 2020, directed by Spike Lee – 3/5 Stars
The poster for “Da 5 Bloods” features psychedelic, evocative imagery. Bright splashes of orange, pink and blue surround the title characters, and behind them lurks the familiar symbol of the American flag. While the film itself does not feature this flashy color palette or surrealistic visuals, it does capture a similar feeling to that of the poster. Following a group of men who fought together in the Vietnam War, “Da 5 Bloods” is a highly stylized commentary on the never-ending nature of violent conflict. While the film sometimes succeeds in its message, it often flounders in its own self-aware humor and convoluted narrative. Be warned, spoilers follow.
The story begins fairly simply: four men, now middle-aged, return to Vietnam to retrieve a box of gold they discovered while deployed as well as the remains of their fallen squad mate, “Stormin’” Norman — played by the late Chadwick Boseman. The following hour is filled with tedious and overwrought exposition, explaining each of the men’s backgrounds and their plan to retrieve the gold and remains. This plot gets a wrench thrown in it at about the halfway point when both the gold and Norman’s body are found, something first-time viewers might expect to be the final climax of the story. Confused and disoriented, viewers are shaken awake by a landmine, blowing Eddie — played by Norm Lewis — to bits in a shockingly gory scene. What follows this point in the movie is a violent, confusing explosion of gunfire, flashbacks and backstabbing in a fight over the gold that the group retrieved. This sequence of events ultimately culminates in the death of the remaining four “bloods,” leaving only David, played by Jonathan Majors, the son of one of the members of the original squad, and his French bomb-defusing love interest, Hedy, played by Mélanie Thierry, with whom he shares minimal on-screen romantic chemistry.
The entire narrative is ultimately carried on the back of lead actor Delroy Lindo, who gives a convincing and emotionally powerful performance. Lindo plays Paul, David’s father, and much of the runtime is dedicated to developing and shaping their father-son relationship, which, by the end, is a highlight of the film. Lindo’s performance, though, is dampened by his character’s controversial politics and troubling backstory. Throughout the film, Paul wears a “Make America Great Again” hat, which becomes a symbol for something; it is difficult to say what director Spike Lee was going for there. It is also implied that Paul was a deadbeat dad and abusive to David’s mother, who died when David was young. All this makes it hard to forgive Paul before he is killed via firing squad by a group of Vietnamese mercenaries, despite the fact that Norman does, in fact, forgive Paul in a heavenly vision deep in the jungle, creating a confusing level of dissonance for the audience.
“Da 5 Bloods” does do some things right, though. Its deepest themes, like the weight of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, collective trauma and the effect it can have on family ties shine through and all with a classic stylized Spike Lee tone. If you want a movie to escape real world events, this is not the movie you are looking for. But if you are a fan of Lee’s work and are interested in a unique take on the Vietnam War, you might like this one.
“Da 5 Bloods” can be streamed right now on Netflix.