The family and I watched Da Five Bloods last night, and we had some thoughts. If you haven’t seen it yet, click below to watch the trailer. Or if Netflix is available to you, just go watch the movie. Then come back and we can chat about it.
I’ve been impressed with Spike Lee’s work for a long time, but he’s taken it to another level with just about every movie he’s made since 2000, starting with Bamboozled and 25th Hour, including Inside Man, Miracle at St. Anna, and Redhook Summer, BlacKkKlansman and now Da 5 Bloods.
The trailer tells the basic story, so I’m not really giving out any serious spoilers with this brief synopsis. The story is about four Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen squad leader, and collect a hoard of gold they had found and buried on a doomed mission that cost the squad leader his life, and did irreparable damage to everyone in the squad. Hijinks, double-crosses, and firefights ensue.
Those who only know Spike Lee by his public persona – the Mars Blackman character kissing Michael Jordan’s ass, the clownish little guy in all the blue and orange Knicks regalia, the angry cartoon character on the Spaceship to the Sun in the famous Simpsons episode –probably haven’t seen a lot of, if any, Spike Lee movies and probably have unrealistic expectations about him as a filmmaker.
Spike Lee is one of the more ambitious and accomplished artists and storytellers in the world today. His stories work on a lot of levels. They contain multitudes. But at the heart of them all is a deep love and appreciation for humanity. Whether he’s portraying a Trump supporter like Paul in Da 5 Bloods, or a racist white guy, or a Vietnamese chicken vendor, the character has dimensions that go deep. The best of them have back stories that make them sympathetic. Not excused, but understood, empathized with, and often loved.
The Paul character in Da 5 Bloods may well be Lee’s greatest accomplishment as a writer and filmmaker. Paul, in his own words, is fucked up inside and broken. As the film progresses, his pain and suffering become Shakespearean and he delivers a series of soliloquies, the first of which will probably go down in film history and win the actor, Delroy Lindo, an Oscar, almost certainly a nomination. If ever a man were so obviously digging his own grave throughout the course of a story, it is Paul. His is a timeless tragedy like the best of them from Shakespeare or the classic Greeks.
Again, those unfamiliar with Spike Lee’s films will probably expect Da 5 Bloods to be a message movie. It’s true that it has plenty of messages pasted and splattered throughout, particularly the observation that black soldiers fight for a country that doesn’t treat them as humans, but it is not a message movie at heart. Da 5 Bloods is a classic character study and adventure movie. It’s a rumination on life and pain and love and greed and redemption; and film history.
In the end, Da 5 Bloods end up as a more integrated squad. Whether there’s a message in that or not, I don’t really know, but I expect that Spike Lee doesn’t miss a lot, so maybe. Another message one could take away, especially if you are a fan of FX’s What we do in the Shadows, is that Paul’s MAGA hat is cursed.
The cinematography and soundtrack are excellent. The story is told through alternating action in the film’s present and flashbacks to their tour in 1971. It goes from heavily saturated, high contrast greens in a 4:3 aspect ratio like the old TV sets to incredibly well-composed and lighted scenes in the present. Scenes shot in an abandoned Buddhist temple really stand out. Most of the soundtrack is by Marvin Gaye. It’s a great movie just to look at and listen to.
So I recommend it. Then if you are not familiar with much of Lee’s work, watch 25th Hour, Bamboozled, and Red Hook Summer.