Da 5 Bloods continues to prove that director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Bamboozled, Inside Man, Chi-Raq, and BlacKkKlansman) is ahead of the game with a masterfully crafted, politically aligned, and fiercely vocal film about the injustice of Black lives in America. As of now, Da 5 Bloods is the best film to come out in 2020.
Da 5 Bloods was everything I wanted in a Spike Lee Joint and more. The writing was solid works of art with compelling drama, stark violence, witty humor, and fierce ambition. I got whiplash from how abruptly the tone of the storyline would change, but this was Lee’s point. Da 5 Bloods revolves around four U.S. Veteran's prior trauma on a war we should not have fought in — while also focusing on what it means to be Black in America. Da 5 Bloods is also the first Hollywood film on the Vietnam War reflected through the eyes of Black Americans. All of the actors (Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) were superb, each bringing their past wounds and conflicts to their fleshed-out characters. Lee also chose not to use CGI for the flashback war scenes on the older actors. This was a brilliant move by Lee, showing how his craft has continued to mature. The CGI-less actors demonstrated how our characters are still haunted by their time in Vietnam, making it feel like everything is happening in real-time.
There's an emotional richness to Da 5 Bloods — as with every Spike Lee Joint, we are grappled with Hollywood's blind spots on minority communities. Lee continues to critique and reexamine the way we look through the frame of movies. Lee has always had a beating heart for American films, yet that doesn't stop him from quarreling with the status quo — proving that many parts of our American history have been distorted. In 1989's Do the Right Thing, Lee examines the horrors of police brutality and with the recent death of George Floyd, sadly; not much has changed. Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever, explores the beginning and end of an interracial relationship in New York City — studying the effects of racism that attacks both race and romance. While Bamboozled was a satirical comedy-drama of modern televised minstrel shows and Chi-Raq played as a modern Greek comedy with parallels on the gun violence debate. In BlacKkKlansman, Lee showed that racism in America from the '70s to the present has not changed and in some instances, we, as a country, are going backward in the age of Trump. Lee has always been ahead of the curb on topics dealing with race relations, the role of the media, crime and poverty, and political matters.
Da 5 Bloods continues Lee's passionate engagement with the Black Lives Matters movement. Our film tells the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Lindo), Otis (Peters), Eddie (Lewis), and Melvin (Whitlock Jr.) — who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman). The group, known as the Bloods, are also on a journey of promised buried gold and are joined by Paul's concerned son, David (Majors). Here, our characters confront their fears, hopes, and internal conflicts in a place they have fought before. Lindo plays Paul — a MAGA-loving Vet who's been beaten and broken down by a system that suppresses him. Paul's stance on politics and Trump leaves his other Bloods disgusted with him, but that doesn't stop Paul from running his mouth. Paul exclaims that our country needs that 'wall' and the 'foreigners' are taking all of our jobs! Paul has narrowed his views of discrimination and solely focuses on his struggle — leaving us with a flawed man who only wants himself to benefit at the price of others. Lindo is a revelation in the role of Paul. His acting chops are beautifully constructed and fiercely persuasive. Lindo captivates scene after scene, giving us one of his best performances to-date. He deserves an Oscar nomination in a Leading Role for this profound accomplishment. Raw and honest, Lindo will keep you glued to your seat. One of his best scenes comes when Paul breaks the fourth wall and begins reciting monologues while he rages throughout the jungle. This scene meticulously captures the mind of a Vet who suffers from PTSD.
Next, there's Otis (Peters), who's considered the new leader of the group since Norman, (Boseman) the fallen Squad Leader, has died. While in Vietnam, Otis visits a past love of his, Tiên (Lê Y Lan), who reveals that he is the father of her grown child. Otis is introduced to his daughter, Michon (Sandy Huong Pham). Michon's subplot is a small but important role to the film's core. Within this subplot, is a heartfelt father-daughter reunion that reveals the relationship to the Black-Amerasian identity. According to Amerasians Without Borders, “it was estimated that there were about 25,000 to 30,000 Amerasians born within a 10 years period during the Vietnam War.” Lee shows the conflict that Amerasians struggle with and embraces their identity — it's a small but moving treasure the film unveils. Peter shines as Otis through compassion and zeal, while reflecting on his strengths and weaknesses. Peter is a passionate man who's looking for hope. Lewis plays Eddie, while Whitlock Jr. plays Melvin — Eddie is struggling financially but hides it through pride and Melvin helps brighten the group with his warm comic relief. Melvin is the Blood happily boozing his way through Ho Chi Minh City. Da 5 Bloods is a combination of past films, like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Apocalypse Now, and a dash of Rambo. Lee is a master in control, showing off violent urges that's underlined with statements of activism. Through it all, we follow these Bloods on their dangerous mission through the wilderness to find their fallen leader and root for them to bring home the gold — land mines and all.
Lastly, this leads us to the role of David played by Majors. David is a concerned son who follows his dad, Paul, to Ho Chi Minh City and joins them on their journey. Majors grapples with a son longing for his dad's love, while also struggling with his mom's death. David blames himself for her death because she died in childbirth when having him. Here, we see a son who only wants to be acknowledged by his dad and given a voice to speak with. Just as he was in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Major's gives us another heartfelt performance. Through blood, sweat, and tears, we feel David's pain aching from the bottom of his heart. One of the most intense scenes in the movie is when David steps on a land mine and cannot move a muscle or the mine will explode. This sequence between David and his father coaching him through will have you on the edge of your couch. Lee's intense scene is a combination of emotions and adrenaline rushing through your veins. It's one of the most heart-pounding scenes I've ever experienced on screen, even at the comfort of my home I was on edge. In the end, Da 5 Bloods is a combination of drama, trauma, grit, and activism, all piled into one hell of a movie. Like a head rush, Lee's newest Joint will seep through your bones. Da 5 Bloods is one of Lee's greatest achievements and I am excited for more to come. Through Lee's imagery, we see that Black Lives Mattered in Vietnam, too.
Da 5 Bloods is rated R (Restricted). For strong violence, grisly images, and pervasive language.
This Joint is Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lê Y Lan, Nguyen Ngọc Lâm, Sandy Huong Pham, Jean Reno, and Van Veronica Ngo.
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