Da 5 Bloods: Netflix Film Review

Da 5 Bloods

I loved Spike Lee‘s previous film BlacKkKlansman – it even made my 2018 end of year list (check it out if you haven’t) – so I had high hopes for Da 5 Bloods, but sadly it’s not one of his strongest works.

The film follows Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) – four African-American Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam – with Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) in tow – to find the gold bars they buried there years before, as well as the remains of their fallen squad leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman).

Da 5 Bloods tells a powerful story about how these men are still haunted by the war, how the ghosts of the past are still affecting their present lives, and show how conflicted the men felt fighting for a country that has let them down time and time again. Lee hammers home the parallels between the African-Americans fighting in the war and fighting for their rights at home by inserting archival images and footage throughout to a sobering effect. Its message is very timely and effective, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Lee.

However, its storytelling style is unfocussed and scattershot, with so many things to say that it becomes overstuffed and overlong. It is stronger in terms of structure in the beginning but once the crew find their treasure pretty early on, it becomes a bit messier and more of a conventional and cliched action film. It also has this B movie feel in places, where the special effects looked cheap, and the flashback action sequences seemed deliberately cheesy. Lee had a hefty budget for this so I’m assuming this was all intentional.

Speaking of flashbacks, I was initially thrown by the older actors playing themselves in them. It was disorientating and confusing at first, seeing them acting along with Boseman, but then I understood the point. It shows that they’ve been reliving those moments in their heads for years. I’m certainly glad Lee didn’t go for The Irishman-style de-ageing technology. The flashbacks are signified by a change in aspect ratio and grainy-looking footage, which were both effective techniques.

The standout performer without a doubt was Lindo. Paul is an extremely complicated character and the film explores how he has become so disenfranchised that he is now a MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter. Paul isn’t a likeable character, he basically becomes the dictator of the group, and Lindo gives an explosive performance filled with pent-up rage and anger. I must admit that I didn’t love his rambling rants to camera – although they helped depict his spiralling mental state, they went on way too long and felt out of place. I also liked Majors as his son, who is the main sympathetic character and the audience’s eyes into the group, and Peters as the sensible Otis. The other two didn’t get much depth. In addition, there’s Johnny Tri Nguyen as their guide Vinh, Jean Reno as a dodgy French fence, and Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, and Jasper Paakkonen as members of a landmine disposal organisation.

Da 5 Bloods is a bold and violent action-adventure which features powerful performances and delivers a timely and important message. However, the writing wasn’t as tight as BlacKkKlansman and the film was unnecessarily long. Not one of his best.

Available on Netflix from Friday 12th June 

Rating: 3/5

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