DA 5 BLOODS (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: From Academy Award® Winner Spike Lee comes a New Joint: the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul's concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature — while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.
Stormin’ Norman might well be the heart and soul of Da 5 Bloods, a character so mystic, courageous and poetic that it’s the only unbelievable factor in this otherwise entertaining drama from acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee.
In present time Saigon, a group of Vietnam vets, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) who dubbed themselves the “bloods” decides to return to retrieve the remains of their platoon commander, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and also to recover a cargo filled with gold bars in which was lost in an napalm strike. The plan is to sell the gold bars to a shady businessman, Desroche (played by French star Jean Reno) after the hunt and the group is joined shortly by Paul’s estranged son, David (Jonathan Majors).
The plan seems simple enough. A local guide, Vinh (Johnny Nguyen) will drop them off halfway into the location and the guys will meet up with Vinh days later. But things went awry when landmines, Desroche’s henchmen came into the picture and Paul’s PTSD got the better of him in this 155 minutes movie from Netflix.
Lee delivers yet another thought-provoking picture about racism, colours, injustice, politics and more. Intercut with vintage newsreel, Da 5 Bloods remains as relevant as ever with the USA suffering from occasional violent protests and the pandemic. Despite being shot in early 2019, Lee’s latest drama is an eerie reflection of the current national crisis. In fact, how does five Black Vietnam vets teach us about history and sufferings? Truth to be told, there’s lots of ground to cover and Lee takes his time to bring audiences to the world seen by the vets.
Although Boseman oozes enough charm in his limited screentime, he is constantly being upstaged by Delroy Lindo who gave a powerhouse performance as the long-suffering Paul. His trauma, guilt, greed, in addition to a son he fails to connect over the years adds to his character. As the logical, peacemaker in the group, Otis has his own demon to deal with, a long-lost daughter he had with a lover. Da 5 Bloods is a movie dealing with many issues. Resulting in a few flaws here and there, it could probably shave off at least 30 minutes to make the narrative tighter and cohesive. And in a complete surprise, there’s no expensive, de-aging effects (Netflix playing it smart after The Irishmen) to be found when the actors play themselves in their younger roles (not even heavy latex makeup are applied) as well.
Da 5 Bloods is a complex movie that requires a few seatings to fully appreciate Lee’s intentions and thoughts. The director has all along harbouring no qualms criticizing his country’s politics and the poor treatment of African-Americans through his movies and his latest is no exception. Obviously, this is not the typical buddy-adventure, treasure hunting flick that you loved. While BlackKklansman was easily a commercially welcoming piece from Lee, Da 5 Bloods on the other hand has him returning to his roots and coming up with his own version of Apocalypse Now.
Review by Linus Tee