Thank you to Netflix for allowing me to watch and review this show!
Director: Spike Lee
Writer(s): Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Paul Walter Hauser
Synopsis: Four black Vietnam Veterans travel back to Vietnam to find the treasure of their fallen squad leader.
“Once a war is over, it is never really over”. Vietnam War films have always followed the same structure and layout dating all the way back to The Deer Hunter. It is a genre of war film that tends to lean more on the characters and the human interactions with war, rather than on the war itself. While Da 5 Bloods doesn’t steer too far away from that same system, Spike Lee proves it is a system that still works, and can work in an epic way.
This movie begins in an extremely obscure way. It is lighthearted and fun and involves just four friends, who I assume haven’t seen each other in some time, meeting back up again in a place that means so much to them. It starts off slow, and you start to wonder if this is a Vietnam War film or a movie about old men drinking and partying. But, when a young Vietnamese boy throws firecrackers at the feet of the protagonists, the bomb literally goes off.
From here on out, I was fully and incredibly captivated by what Spike Lee brought to the screen. This movie blends his famous “Spike Lee Style” that made his first films so great, with the mainstream production value and grand scale message of his more recent film, BlacKkKlansman. It is in your face, loud, and bombastic, but it isn’t done for the sake of being so. It is done in a way that clearly shows how important making this movie was to Spike Lee. He lures you in with the flair that everyone nowadays is so keen on wanting you to see, and then right as he knows he has you he speaks to you.
I have personally always been fascinated by the Vietnam War, and the films that came from the Vietnam War. Vietnam War films have a way about them that show even when the war is over, it is never really over for the soldiers. They struggle with mental issues for the rest of their life, issues that were brought along by serving in an unjust and lost war. One thing Spike Lee shows all too well in this movie is that for black people, they have always been fighting a war. And even when they go off to fight for the country in real wars, in a way to show their loyalty and hope to be repaid for their sacrifices, they have to come back home to issues that might be even more demanding.
So, when I say he speaks to you, I mean he literally speaks to you. There were multiple moments in this movie where the characters in the film are speaking directly into the camera. They might be talking to someone else in the story of the film, but they are clearly speaking to the audience. Each one of these moments sent absolute shivers down my spine, and even writing about it now I am getting goosebumps. Spike Lee knows his platform and is an absolute genius at being able to use his platform to speak to the masses. The “American War” as the Vietnamese, fittingly, call the war, and the war for Civil Rights and Black Lives are both still being fought today. These two wars involve two very distinct groups of people, but they are both still fighting the same enemy, America. Spike Lee, took on an even harder challenge in this film than he had with BlacKkKlansman, but I would argue that this one worked just as well when it comes to relaying a very significant message.
But what Spike Lee can also do is pull some of the best performances of the year out of his films. He was able to put John David Washington on the map, revitalize Topher Grace’s career, and get Adam Driver his first Oscar nomination. With Da 5 Bloods, this IS Delroy Lindo’s movie through and through. Lindo’s Paul is clearly the most affected veteran of the group. It seems fitting that the one that is the most messed up mentally is the same one that is most for the US Government. Sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat, we are given Paul’s clear signs of PTSD from early on in the film. He has triggers that can send him over the edge in just a snap. Lindo’s performance is truly captivating watching him handle all of these emotions and demons throughout the film. For the rest of the group, they are revisiting Vietnam to look for their friend/squad leader, but for Paul, he is back in the war the moment he stepped foot in the country.
There are moments that are so intensely shot and acted that you really feel like these people went through these dire situations. Moments of sheer shock and realization that makes you feel guilty for something you probably had little to no part in. Lindo shines in the moments where his character becomes triggered, but it is the moments when Lindo is directly speaking to the audience that carries the most weight. These few monologues are some that are performed with such intensity and written with such brevity, it is almost hard to not understand where he is coming from. A performance where you will want to go back and watch the movie just to see the scenes where he overtakes the screen. This is a performance that will get him an Oscar nomination I have absolutely no doubt.
The rest of the cast did wonderful as well, but the other standout of the film was Jonathan Major’s playing Paul’s son. I shouldn’t be shocked given the remarkable performance he gave in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, but what he does here kicks that up another level. There is a clear love between Paul and his son, but there is a distance between the two that can be seen, heard, and felt throughout the film. Majors is brilliant and brings everything he can to try to go toe to toe with Lindo over the course of the movie, and he also is clearly the one who grows the most by the end.
While the length of the film didn’t bother me at all, I can see how it could bother some people. The CGI also looked really bad early on in the film. There is a scene where they are flying in a helicopter, and you can clearly tell the graphics just were not up to par for this. The makeup however was done remarkably well and added to the sheer pain of watching what happens over the course of the film.
The movie flashes back and forth between the past and the present, and while I really enjoyed the changing of the aspect ratio and the backstory, I just was not as intrigued with the past as I was with these men having to relive their moments of the war, which was disappointing to me when I found out Chadwick Boseman is not in the movie for near as much as I would have liked him to be. What I did like so much about the flashback sequences was the fact that there was no de-aging or recasting done for the flashbacks. The flashback scenes included all of the “Bloods” in their current old state, almost in a way to show they have been and always will be fighting.
Final: Long, loud, and lasting, Spike Lee strikes gold with Da 5 Bloods offering up an intense look at Vietnam War. Delroy Lindo will be an Oscar Nominee come 2021, I can guarantee it. This movie is one that I will not soon forget, and it is one I will see over and over again. Spike Lee ups his game from BlacKkKlansman, and in an incredible way. I am ready to watch it again.
Current Tomato Score: 87%
Current Metacritic: 81
Awards Prospects: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound + Tech Categories
ON NETFLIX JUNE 12
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.