Da 5 Bloods (2020)



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If you don’t like Spike Lee joints, this is not going to be for you. One aspect of Blackkklansman I did not like was the overt reference to Trump. The final montage of news stories covering Trump left me with a bad taste in my mouth at the end of the film. Spike Lee is not subtle but, Da 5 Bloods is less focused on 2020 and more focused on the general black experience in America. The opening sequence is a montage of video of Black protest to the war in Vietnam. It fits the movie well by anchoring the viewer in how the black community was reacting to the draft and increasing death count in the 1960s.

I finished watching this movie minutes after Chadwick Boseman’s death was announced. It added a little more weight to the movie as the credits rolled and I received the news. Chadwick Boseman played Stormin’ Norman, the fallen squad leader whose body the remaining living members of the unit are back in Vietnam to recover. There are two timelines in this movie, today and the Vietnam war. Chadwick is the only age-appropriate actor in the flashbacks. There is no de-aging in this movie, so all the other members of the unit are fifty years older in the flashbacks. It is an effective storytelling tool, but I suspect Spike Lee is continuing to not get the financial support he deserves for his films.

Delroy Lindo portrays Paul, a MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter. His estranged son, a Morehouse graduate like Spike, Melvin is played by Isiah Witlock Jr. Paul suffers from PTSD and recurring nightmares about Stormin’ Norman. Paul’s reaction to a country that still doesn’t accept him because of his skin color is to embrace Trump as an effort to overturn the system. It is an uncommon look into the black Trump voter that I appreciated. The father-son relationship is somewhat run of the mill, but the actors have real chemistry.

The film is very dense. I already addressed the historical context, black trump supporters, black father-son relationship, historically black colleges, and Vietnam war protest. The movie also touches on reparations, French colonial occupation of Vietnam, Vietnamese children born to service members and black service members specifically, unexploded land mines, greed, American companies operating abroad, Vietnamese unification post-war, and other topics. Nothing is off the table to Spike Lee. It can feel overwhelming at times, but everything is mostly broken up into vignettes so you can take on each topic on its own. Spike Lee is nothing if not an effective storyteller and this is a master class.

A lot of the filming took place in the Vietnamese jungles and they are gorgeous. I would have loved to see this movie in theaters, but it looked beautifully stunning on 4K HDR on an OLED. This is one of the most gorgeously shot films outside of nature documentaries I have seen on my TV. The soundscape is built perfectly. The action scenes are not overly loud compared to the dialog except when needed; several explosions made my dog and I both jump. If Spike had a limited budget, he made the absolute most of it. The flashback scenes are shot in a grainier film with a letterbox ratio. It bugged me at first, but by the third or fourth flashback, it no longer bugged me.

Spike Lee is a phenomenal director with a unique unparalleled style. He deserves more credit than he gets even if you find his tactics heavy-handed. This film fits well into 2020 but it should age well, unlike Blackklansman. Da 5 Bloods is a heavy and dense movie, but it deserves a dedicated viewing. At 154 minutes it is a commitment but after the first half-hour, it moves along and holds your attention right through until the end. This is a great reflective movie on Vietnam from an underrepresented group of soldiers.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst