Spike Lee is a director always in search of new ways to communicate his convictions, and Da 5 Bloods finds the filmmaker pushing his familiar obsessions to the edge. It’s an often elegiac film about brotherhood and the legacy of men who feel like their lives are one unending war.
Bringing together elements of a platoon picture, heist thriller, history lesson and grumpy-old-men comedy with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack, the director Spike Lee’s 2020 Netflix release Da 5 Bloods isn’t like anything else out there. That’s mostly thanks to the ensemble cast, which includes Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clark Peters, Norm Lewis, Melanie Thierry and Paul Walter Hauser alongside Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.
The gomovies film begins with a montage of archival footage from the 1960s and ’70s, featuring Muhammad Ali, Lyndon B. Johnson speaking from the White House, and Angela Davis warning of fascism coming to America. It then seamlessly blends into present-day images of a military casket arriving at an airfield, landmine activists and Vietnamese amputees, and a meeting of the Black Lives Matter movement. The shifts between eras are highlighted by the use of an ultra-widescreen format, evoking the sweeping images in films such as Apocalypse Now and Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a visual style that suits the movie perfectly.
The film centers on a group of black Vietnam War veterans (Delroy Lindo, Clark Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to the jungle in search of their fallen squad leader’s remains and a stash of buried CIA gold. As they embark on their mission, the Bloods struggle to reconcile their past with their present—and their own personal demons.
Da 5 Bloods zigzags between the director’s trademark topical diatribes on race and politics and a hard-R B-movie caper. Yet it ultimately succeeds, thanks to a terrific ensemble cast and an unflinching look at the trauma of war and racism in America.
Lee’s film pulls the unacknowledged heroism of black soldiers out of obscurity and into mainstream cinematic consciousness. Even though it can be a bit overwrought and overlong, its message is one of hope in the face of systemic injustice. And that makes it well worth a watch.
Spike Lee delivers a searing sermon on race in America in Da 5 Bloods. Fierce energy and ambition courses through this movie, making it one of his most impactful works. It is a platoon picture, a western, a father-son melodrama, an adventure saga and a heist thriller all rolled into one, infused with documentary footage and a Marvin Gaye song.
With a cast that includes Delroy Lindo, The Wire’s Clark Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jr, plus Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods has the makings of a great film. The performances are good, the plot is solid and the subject matter is timely.
What started out as an action-adventure heist film about Vietnam veterans returning to the jungle is now a stirring, delirious treatise on racism, American history and black patriotism. It’s a movie that will resonate in our troubled times, even if the weld-points show through at times. It’s a film that should have been made years ago but, given its topic, is timelier now than ever before.
It’s hard not to be caught up by these provocative themes, especially when the action kicks into high gear and the Bloods’ journey takes them down an unapologetically dangerous path. But the movie wanders off in some odd directions and gets lost in a treasure-chase finale that suggests a blaxploitation spin on Rambo.