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Film Review: Da 5 Bloods

13 June 20 words: George White

Two years after picking up an Oscar for BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee is back with Da 5 Bloods, his first feature film for Netflix...

Director: Spike Lee 
Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters
Running time:
 155 minutes

Spike Lee has never shied away from delivering harsh truths, but has always managed to do so in an engaging, thought-provoking manner, and Da 5 Bloods is a prime example of exactly that. Lee’s latest joint, and his first for Netflix, is one of his hardest-hitting yet, tackling key issues that feel soberingly relevant in today’s global context. From the immorality of the Vietnam War to systemic racism in the United States, Lee uses Da 5 Bloods to once again speak his mind - and, considering recent developments on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s important that we listen. 

The film follows four veterans of the conflict in Vietnam as they return to the country to retrieve the body of their fallen squad leader - and the fifth Blood - Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), as well as $17 million worth of gold bars. During their journey, the group encounters numerous obstacles, including land mines, snakes and gun-wielding soldiers, as they traverse the uncomfortably familiar jungle. 

Lee and his writing team challenge the audience from the very beginning, using real-life footage and images to hammer home messages on race, war and the long-lasting impacts of western imperialism. Much like with the ending of 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, which incorporated scenes of an attack by a white supremacist on peaceful protesters, Lee inserts this imagery to remind the audience that this affects real people in the real world, impacting the viewer in a more personal, forceful way. 

The story of the Bloods is also constantly underpinned by important themes, with the characters’ struggles arising as a result of the issues tackled by the film. A flashback to their time in the war, as a broadcast from a station in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam plays out of their radio, emphasises that African-Americans were disproportionately represented in the army, with the proportion of black soldiers around three times higher than the proportion of black citizens in the United States. 

Interactions between the Bloods and the Vietnamese people also highlights the brutality of the war, and the unquestionably inhumane methods used by American soldiers during their time in the country. One scene is again interspersed with real-life images, including a clip of a soldier executing a defenceless man, which stick long in the memory.

This movie feels like a must-watch for western audiences in the current circumstances

Yet beyond the vital messages, this movie is also a deeply interesting study of a band of brothers whose relationship is constantly put to the test. The instant chemistry between the entire group demonstrates the strength of their bond from the first scene, and the importance of each character to the other is highlighted throughout the film - seen in a sequence in which the Bloods try to calm Paul (Delroy Lindo) after his PTSD is triggered by an altercation with a salesman. 

As the group delves further into the jungle and their mental state begins to deteriorate, this bond begins to break in chaotic fashion. Paul, as the rogue leader of the Bloods, slowly descends into madness as memories of the war weigh on his mind, causing conflict within the group as tensions erupt into violence. Lindo is formidable in the leading role, his complex and volatile performance encapsulating the mental instability of the character and providing an intimidating presence throughout the story. 

Alongside Lindo, Spike Lee is the star of the show once again. His directorial work is remarkable and the decision to switch up the cinematography for flashbacks, using gorgeous filmic visuals and old-school screen resolutions, is a work of genius. This could be seen as honouring Vietnam movies of old, but Da 5 Bloods openly criticises the likes of Rambo for attempting to rewrite history; Lee uses these visuals to rewrite the rewriting of history, using the aesthetics of these old movies to display the sombre reality of the war, undermining the westernised, glorified version of events. 

Despite Lee’s incredible work, though, this movie is half-an-hour too long, failing to truly justify its lengthy runtime. While certain slower, more introspective moments work well, the film draws out too many beats for too long, allowing key scenes to feel slightly passive and lethargic. Some editing decisions feel slightly strange, too, with the decision to repeat particular moments proving immersion-breaking at times. 

That said, Spike Lee’s latest joint is undoubtedly a success, and one that feels dishearteningly poignant at this moment in time. Through posing thought-provoking questions on a number of important issues, most notably black rights in the west (or lack thereof), this movie feels like a must-watch for western audiences in the current circumstances. With these messages packed into an interesting, if slightly protractive, story, Da 5 Bloods is both educational and engaging, providing a lot of important information to us in these difficult times - and we should all be willing to listen.

Did you know? Paul Walter Hauser and Jasper Pääkkönen return to work with Spike Lee in this film. Both previously held roles in his last project, BlacKkKlansman (2018).

Da 5 Bloods is now available on Netflix 

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