A story about buried treasure serves as a perfect springboard into what is a far more complex tale of identity, loss, war and the scars black men have carried in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods.
A story about black men deployed in a foreign country
Set in the present day but featuring flashbacks to the Vietnam war, the movie explores the complex dynamic of black soldiers deployed to a foreign country who know that soon they will be either die fighting for or returning to a country that has never respected them.
Amidst the civil rights movement back home, the team of five black soldiers Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Norman (Chadwick Boseman) concoct a plan to save their people back home.
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However after their plan goes awry and things take a turn for the worst, the soldier loses their leader Norman and end up coming back decades later to pay respect to a comrade they lost and to retrieve the gold only they were aware of.
Unusually bold storytelling
There’s a lot of material packed into this two, and a half-hour run but Da 5 Bloods manages to make all of it work. What’s most surprising about this—even though given director Spike Lee’s past work, it really shouldn’t be – is how bold the storytelling is here.
The main character of the film is a Trump supporter and this among his other character flaws allows him to be a refreshingly new kind of protagonist. Delroy Lindo’s wild, emotionally turbulent take on the character Paul gives him a terrifying edge. He is such a wildcard that it is difficult to fathom what could set him off.
Paul’s relationship with his son David (an excellent Jonathan Majors) also gets unfurled as David surprisingly shows up to accompany the crew on their trip to Vietnam. Majors, an up and coming actor, is the perfect foil for Lindo as the father son’s complicated relationship reaches a boiling point.
Da 5 Bloods is a fantastic showcase for the younger actor whose emotionally charged performance says a lot through his facial expressions alone. Melanie Thierry as a founder of an organization in charge of clearing landmines and Veronica Ngo as Hanoi Hannah are welcome additions, even if their scenes are brief.
Like with all great films though, their presence is essential to the grander theme of the film, which is just how defining a factor war is for everyone involved, even if in completely different ways. Even with the story centered on one platoon of African American soldiers, Lee is fully conscious of the destructive nature of war and its toll on humanity.
Therefore, he approaches it not only from the black perspective but also through Theiry’s Hedy, a wealthy white French woman who now spends her time righting the sins of her forefathers. Lee also focuses on the grief of Vietnamese people who saw their land invaded and their loved ones butchered.
Spike Lee’s choice to have the older actors play themselves in the flashbacks without any dragging technology may seem off on paper. Still, it only allows viewers to understand better the tribulations the group have gone through.
Spiced up by real-life footages of actual events
Another, chillingly brilliant creative decision was to splice in real-life footage and photographs of actual events, be it protests in America or the innocent lives taken in Vietnam and the States. This makes the film so jarringly effective because it blurs fact and fiction. Spike Lee has always had a knack for tapping into the cultural psyche, more so than his peers.
However, the subject matter of Da 5 Bloods feels so tragically timely that it is almost heartbreaking to sit through the film. What makes Da 5 Bloods truly exemplary is Lee’s direction and commitment to crafting a complex mosaic of a story that leaves you feeling a little hurt but underlines that pain in war is never one-sided.