Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is another home run from the critically acclaimed filmmaker, who’s previous film Blackkklansman, garnered him global attention with Academy Award nominations in 2019. His newest film follows a group of five African-American friends (bloods) who go to battle in the 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War – and six decades later, four of the five bloods return to the jungles of Vietnam to discover the buried remains of one lost blood, while on a treasure hunt for their hidden gold. This is a film about pain, suffering and love, but ultimately, it’s about repentance and forgiveness. Spike Lee uses screen time with dialogue to literally educate the viewer on the truth behind the involvement of black US soldiers in Vietnam, fighting an immoral war that wasn’t America’s to fight, while giving justice to the Vietnamese counterargument; a nation who holds a deeply embedded grudge against American soldiers who committed unnecessary atrocities to innocent Vietnamese women and children during the war. Da 5 Bloods is a rousing, gritty, treasure hunt of honor and war that takes place in the jungles of Vietnam, both present-day and flashbacks. This film is sure to be considered one of the best films of 2020.
The four African/American veterans are Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clark Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to Vietnam to meet a tour guide named Vinh (Johnny Nguyen), discovering that they fought in the same battle as Vinh’s father. The four bloods are on a mission to first, recover the remains of their fallen squad leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), whom they considered to be “their Malcom (X), their Martin (Luther King Jr.). And he would shut your mouth, like (Muhammad) Ali.” Spike Lee’s brilliant use of creative flashback’s depicted with grainy film stock in a 4:3 framed aspect ratio shows the remaining four friends, aged in the present-day, placed in the jungles of Vietnam with their leader, Norman, during the actual war in Vietnam as we learn how they came across a case of gold fortunes that Norman helps the five of them hide. The 4:3 aspect ratio shows photographs of African/American political figures and heroic soldiers in conjunction with speeches by the three-time Heavyweight boxing champion and philanthropist, Muhammad Ali, as well as the African/American political activist and scholar, Angela Davis, giving a speech in Oakland, California. Spike Lee educates us with bits from Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, after the death of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, in addition to a bit from President Nixon, with archive footage from the Civil War and World War II, providing countless convincing arguments for all the African/American soldiers that fought for the United States and are still victims of racism and police brutality in their own country.
Spike Lee pays homage to Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the quintessential Vietnam War film, ranked 30th on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 greatest films ever made, by literally having the film’s title backlit on the wall of the nightclub behind the Disc Jockey, as our four African/American hero veterans slip and slide through the dancing crowd to meet their tour guide, Vinh. In addition to this, Spike Lee even shot his own version of a black helicopter flying the blood orange sunset skies as the five bloods go into battle against the Viet Kong. The overall screenplay is profound in its depth and the dialogue between the bloods is controversial, attention-grabbing and amusing. Melvin gives justice to the pigeon towed by calling out all the great athletes who dealt with the condition; John Elway, the former Denver Bronco quarterback and current GM; Andre Agassi, the former world No.1 tennis legend who won 8 Grand Slams; Michael Jordan, the 6-time NBA Champion with the Chicago Bulls . Each character in this film has its own distinctive voice and traits that uniquely differentiate themselves from each other, possibly due to the fact that Da 5 Bloods was written by four writers: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee.
The timing of this film is impeccable considering the current Black Lives Matter movement across all fifty states in the nation that evolved because of the countless tragedies that involve police brutality that stems from the deeply embedded systemic racism in the United States of America toward all people of color, especially those who are black. The hypocrisy and contradiction of white supremacy is being exposed now, more than ever, due to technological advancements that have united the millennials through social media platforms to organize protests, riots and rallies in demanding change and confronting Caucasians upon their unjustified privileges attained merely from their white skin color. These protests are causing white Americans to recognize the fact they are descendants of immigrants from the original people of Europe, who decided to come to America to flee their own oppressions prior to the 18th century. Spike Lee does an incredible job of balancing all the contradictions, even African/American ones, as he gives a voice to the Vietnamese, who show their hate towards Americans, regardless of skin color, because of the damage they caused, “American war turned Vietnamese family against Vietnamese family” says a character in the film, referring to the division between the north and south Vietnam that was spawned by the war.
It’s incredibly interesting to note that the character of Paul, who is the core of the film, wears a MAGA hat. “Make America Great Again?” A Vietnamese officer asks him, after he threatens him with an automatic weapon, scoffing at and spitting on the red hat that, in this sense, represents ‘Blacks for Trump’. Spike Lee used real-life footage from a rally campaign with President Trump, where an African/American holds a sign behind him that reads of Black support for the 45th President. There’s also controversial references to war movies of past, with somewhat positive dialogue between Paul and Otis about Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood, where John Rambo, a Caucasian Vietnam war veteran, returns to the USA only to be belittled and denounced by the country he fought for. Otis confuses Paul’s reference to Stallone’s Rambo by disapproving of Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action, without saying the Martial Artist’s name, but referring to him as Walker, Texas Ranger, the title of Norris’ popular TV show that ran for 8 seasons. When referring to Colonel Braddock (Chuck Norris), who went into Vietnam in the film Missing in Action to rescue American prisoners held captive, Otis complains why “Hollyweird” refrains from idolizing the real life black heroes during Vietnam. “Hollyweird wants to go back and win the Vietnam War.”
In further provocative dialogue that’s hot and debatable is in a scene when Paul tells Desroche (Jean Reno) – a linen-suit wearing Frenchman who’s there to help the bloods repossess their gold – that if it wasn’t for America’s presence in World War II, France wouldn’t have the culture they have in the present-day, and that the French culture they’ve sustained would have been replaced by that of Germans. Prior to their treasure hunt, Paul’s son, David, makes a surprise visit to Vietnam to check on his father’s mental illnesses stemming from post-traumatic stress. David is played by Jonathan Majors, who gave a memorable performance in The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019). Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods strikes gold as a film, just as much as its characters strike gold in their treasure hunt. It’s filled with a wealth of information and knowledge that wouldn’t be spewed otherwise, had it been in the hands of any other filmmaker, which further supports the notion that Lee is one of the best filmmakers in cinematic history and on my personal top 10 list of favorite Directors. He brings home the central notion that “War is about money; money is about war.” He gives us the eye-opening fact that “32% of the troops in Vietnam were negroes while only 11% of the US population is Negro.” Spike Lee even attempts to put the American love for its founding father on the fence with the fact that George Washington owned over one-hundred slaves.
Delroy Lindo’s performance is deep and fierce deserving massive recognition. Spike Lee’s style is intense and raw, as always, with unexpecting elements that come out of left field. You know you’re in the hands of a master when Spike Lee is calming us during the grave subject matter by implementing a signature musical score with his long-time collaborator, Terence Blanchard (Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour), a renowned Jazz musician and film composer using trumpet sounds to evoke a buzzing brass of air waves that unwind us throughout the viewing process. Lookout for Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s hilarious “Shieeet” line of dialogue, reprising his signature pronunciation of the word “Shit” he used remarkably in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour (2001) when he played a Federal Agent.
Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is a golden spectacle.