“We fought an immoral war for rights we didn’t have.”– Delroy Lindo as Paul
By Cain Dennis
As a viewer, I consider myself fairly new to Spike Lee’s body of work. “Da 5 Bloods” is the third of his films that I’ve seen. I was introduced to him with 2018’s “BlacKKKlansman” and shortly after saw what is possibly his most loved film, “Do the Right Thing”. Like those two films, in “Da 5 Bloods”, Spike brings themes of racial injustice and societal inequality to the forefront with searing relevancy. “Da 5 Bloods” follows a group of four Black Vietnam War veterans who return to the battlefields of their past to bring the remains of their fallen squad leader home and seek out riches in the form of a trove of lost gold along the way.
While the film’s title implies an ensemble, I found the show to be completely stolen by Delroy Lindo as Paul. The four remaining former squad members all suffer from PTSD due to their time fighting in Vietnam, but it affects Paul the most, he sees his fallen leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) talk to him in his sleep and his experiences in the war have made it almost impossible to live a completely normal life. We see many flashback scenes that are shot on 16mm film, much like the news reports and scenes that the American public was seeing throughout the span of the Vietnam War, and that difference in style gives a stark contrast between present day and the past. Even in these flashbacks, the squad is not de-aged or played by younger actors to show that these men have never truly left these horrific scenes in their past. A part of them has always been there since and I think that keeping them as older men in the flashbacks is an incredible creative choice that forwards the themes of the film in a clear visual message that’s very easy to understand. “Da 5 Bloods” also intercuts real historical images and clips, some extremely gruesome to show give context involving the war. Jonathan Majors also appears here as Paul’s son, David, and you can see how their father/son dynamic is affected, and their relationship almost ruined by the ghosts of Paul’s past, and that’s the most interesting interpersonal subplot in the film, most of the others, including a main character finding out he has a daughter from back in the war, fall extremely flat. The dynamic between Paul and David, and Lee’s distinct visual language are the best parts to me, and unfortunately, when I dig deeper into the writing and side characters, this movie begins to fall apart for me.
Most of my criticisms of “Da 5 Bloods” lie with the writing and characterization. Out of the five main characters, I really only found Paul and David to be compelling, not counting Stormin’ Norman who appears a handful of times in flashbacks, Chadwick Boseman is charismatic and very believable. Throughout “Da 5 Bloods” the characters that we follow witness many terrifying and intense things, far from the least of which, a tense scene in a minefield left over from the war decades ago, but these times and even deaths happening in front of them seem to bring little in the way of reactions, these things happen and then they just move on with no later mention or greater impact on the plot of the movie. and of course, where there is treasure, there is always someone hot on the trail to take it, and that conflict slowly turns this focused character study into a dime-a-dozen action movie in the third act and its themes get lost in the crossfire until its very poignant, timely ending. I find it especially odd since early in the movie a character even mentions “Those dumb-ass Rambo movies” before “Da 5 Bloods” comes to a head in a big shootout against a cartoonish villain that wouldn’t feel out of place in one.
“Da 5 Bloods” is an interesting case of a film split in two. One half is a deeply important social commentary about racial injustice and the treatment of our veterans who are too often forgotten by our country after their service, and the other half wants to be an action-packed adventure film. With a bit more nuance, I think that these two halves could have worked together but in the way this film presents itself the action just feels like noise and comes dangerously close to drowning out the important things being said. “Da 5 Bloods” is worth watching for its message but I found it disappointing as a complete package.
I’m going to give “Da 5 Bloods” a