Da 5 Bloods

da_five_bloodsSTARS3.5Oh boy, I’ve seen a lot of movies.  But you needed’t be a film studies major.   As Da 5 Bloods unfolded it sparked the fond memories of two classics.      This narrative is clearly inspired by an amalgamation of Saving Private Ryan and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Ah, but with Spike Lee, the filmmaker certainly puts his own spin on it.   This has an added component that when filtered through the context of our current reality.  Da 5 Bloods is a blistering critique of U.S. exploitation of African-Americans in war and in general.  It is presented as nothing less than a major statement for our time.   Spike Lee still has his finger on the pulse of modern America.  As a piece of entertainment, it’s adequate but as a reflection of the current zeitgeist, it’s one of the most noteworthy releases of the year.

Spike Lee’s work is a  blending of pop culture references.   Even he acknowledges his debt to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  When Paul (Delroy Lindo) demands to see the credentials of a Vietnam official  waving a gun named Quan (Nguyen Ngoc Lam), the man replies, “We don’t need no stinking official badges.”   That’s an obvious reference.   There are more: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Three Kings are others.   Lee is a student of film.  Meanwhile, the soundtrack utilizes songs from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a concept album released in 1971 that is just as much of a political statement then as it is now.

Spike gets even more serious with an intro that he usually saves for the climax utilizing historical footage of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X then blissfully confronting the viewer with every recognizable Vietnam- era photograph in a deluge of snapshots.  A little background history: the montage includes the suicide protest of Buddhist monks Thích Quảng Đức & Ho Dinh Van, also Phan Thi Kim Phuc running from a napalm attack and the Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém.  I recount their names out of respect which is significantly more due than that the movie affords these individuals in this rapid-fire array.  These are iconic portraits so powerful that they singlehandedly changed the public perception of an entire war.  The superficial appropriation of these images is problematic in this context.  My review largely disregards this brief sequence but I think its inclusion bears a mention.

“Male bonding” is a cliched phrase but here it is the enjoyable highlight of the picture.   The story was developed by Lee and his regular collaborator Kevin Willmott from an original script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo.   It concerns 4 black war veterans returning to Vietnam.   Officially they’re there to locate and recover the remains of their fallen squad leader “Stormin’ Norman” (Boseman).  Why the nickname of Gulf War general Norman Schwarzkopf is invoked as a comparison to this individual is a mystery.   Anyway, the band is also trying to uncover a stache of buried gold bullion once thought to be lost.   What ultimately endears an adventure to an audience is the people involved.   The best thing about this narrative is the camaraderie between the four principals they each have a distinct personality and the way their personalities mesh is the enjoyment of the picture.  The four actors are Clarke Peters, Norm Lews, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., and Delroy Lindo.

Delroy Lindo is the standout as Paul.  The actor plays a Vietnam veteran whose conservative politics are driven by a mentality of betrayal.  Lindo surprisingly dons a MAGA hat revealing himself to be a Donald Trump supporter.   But as we get to know Paul, the layers behind his stance become apparent.  His performance is restrained yet intimate.  Director Lee has worked with Delroy Lindo on three productions before Malcolm X (1992), Crooklyn (1994), and Clockers (1995).  They collaborate here on a character that makes perfect sense in his motivations and desires.  What’s not surprising is that his achievement is garnering Oscar talk.

Da 5 Bloods is a mid-level work for Spike Lee.  It’s good but not great.  Comparatively, BlacKkKlansman from just 2 years ago was better.   To its credit, the plot is inherently simple at its essence.   Yet there’s an overabundance of labored machinations in this 2-hour 34-minute feature.   Thankfully the story hits its stride in due time within the 2nd half.   I prefer the simplicity of a straight-ahead narrative.   As such, I am not a fan of flashback sequences.  They are a cinematic affectation that should be used sparingly.    However, this saga has an almost obsequious reliance on them.  Each one further highlighted because it’s shot on 16mm film.   Regardless,  the timing couldn’t be more prescient.  The Black Lives Matter movement currently blankets every single aspect of American life.   Furthermore thanks to COVID-19, Hollywood studios have essentially placed a  moratorium on new releases.  Meanwhile, Da 5 Bloods has been rightfully elevated as a major cultural event because critics have deemed it to be a “work of art”.   That makes this one of the most significant releases of 2020 to be sure.

Addendum:  Da Five Bloods debuted on Netflix on June 12.  After briefly occupying the #1 position, it promptly dropped out of the Top 10. The current #1 movie?  An animated picture from ToonBox Entertainment called The Nut Job that made under $65 million in 2014.

06-13-10

One Response to “Da 5 Bloods”

  1. This was good. Performances between the friends was good. A little too long, but I enjoyed it. 4 stars

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: