Review: 'Da 5 Bloods' (2020) Dir. Spike Lee
Director Spike Lee brings his trademark film-making vision and story-telling for another powerful exploration of race and equality, this time surrounding the Vietnam war...
Following a tour in the Vietnam war, a squad of soldiers led by "Stormin'" Norman Earl Holloway (Boseman) uncover a shipment of gold, but during the course of battle, the gold is buried to keep safe.
Fourty years later the squad return to find it. Paul (Lindo), Otis (Peters), Eddie (Lewis) and Melvin (Whitlock Jr) arrive in a very different Vietnam to find their gold.
With the help of guide Vinh (Nguyễn) and Paul's son David (Majors), the old friends find an emotional and reflective journey ahead that reminds them some personal wars are never over...
Set in a very current and relevant timeline of America under the Presidency of Fake Bone Spurs (or Donald Trump as we know him), this is more poignant than ever in recent times when the world needed to be reminded that Black Lives Matter; they have now, but then again they always have. It's just a case of how and when society and those in charge acknowledge they do. Director Spike Lee continues to reminds us this battle rages stronger now as it has for years, and shows no signs of stopping regardless of the blood split or tears shed. This time, we underlay the battle with a familiar war - Vietnam. The running time clocks in just over 2hrs 30mins, and while some scenes feel unneeded for the sake of exposition, others are nail-bitingly played out such as the accidental discovery of a mine-field and a confrontation between Vietnamese criminals and the group fighting for the gold.
Lee knows the talent needed for a film such as this. There is strong heart, humour and harrowing reminders of the horrors of war and injustice. Delroy Lindo is a commanding force as the front man of our group of "Bloods"; a man built on knowing what respect means, what honour means and also what it means to have few pleasures in a hard life. With strong support from Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr as the old squad, it's a wonderful mix of characters that evoke a strong friendship thanks to their equal talent and emotion.
Many grounded topics are dealt with during this often larger-than-life story, including PTSD, race equality, culture clashes and dealing with loss.
There is also talent in the form of Mélanie Thierry, Johnny Trí Nguyễn and Chadwick Boseman. Boseman is the 5th of our "Bloods"; the leader in 'Nam who never made it home and who lives on in the memories and hearts of his soldiers, here to carry his memory forward. Boseman carries a very believable strength and power as "Stormin'" Norman, fighting for black equality in a white America as well as fighting a war, and in that respect plays him perfectly.
While Boseman and the war is played out in flashbacks, acclaimed cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel shoots all the Vietnam segments in 16mm film, opposed to the digital for the main narrative. To this effect, the Vietnam scenes of both conversation and battle look and feel as authentic as one could imagine being there, seen in way that looks grainy and framed as a television would show. It's framed and shot as if looking through the eyes of a news reporter; short, snappy editing and a mix of angles and wide-shots, compared to the slicker, more cinematic, crisp digital narrative. It's also refreshing to see our older leads playing their twenty-something selves without any computer de-aging; we just have to use our imagination.
This is coupled by a wonderfully immersive and sweeping score by Jazz artist Terence Blanchard, conveying lots of emotion and pride at crucial times to compliment the gorgeous Vietnam landscapes, cities or when simply focused on the "Bloods" themselves.
That's not to say the battle is all in 70's 'Nam, it's equally in modern day 'Nam carried on by events never forgotten by the younger generations when tempers rise, seen by the just how much corporate America now floods the country. America and it's leaders aren't spared the blame by Lee in the failing of black equality over the years, and how much segregation is rife, something that pops up during this story as a stark reminder to audiences about what old and new generations face regardless of sacrifice.
Lee also makes sure to remind us of real faces and names of those who gave so much for black equality, as well as horrific images of war, always lacing fiction with fact for strong and poignant storytelling.
While 'Da 5 Bloods' may not resonate a powerful message compared to recent efforts such as 'BlackKklansman', this still is a very relevant story made stronger through Lee's unique visual honesty.
'Da 5 Bloods' is a 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks / Rahway Road / Lloyd Levin/Beatriz Levin Production