The latest “Spike Lee Joint” could not have come at a more apt time. With the Black Lives Matter movement calling for justice and diversity, and a global pandemic meaning most people are stuck watching Netflix.
“We fought in an immoral war that wasn’t ours for rights we didn’t have”
Da 5 Bloods tells the story of ageing Vietnam veterans, Paul, Otis, Eddie and Melvin, as they return to modern-day Vietnam. They arrive to bring back the remains of their fallen leader, Norman, as well as the gold they buried. While the Bloods are the central characters, most of the focus is put on Paul and Otis. Paul, suffering from severe PTSD and wearing a MAGA hat, has had the hardest time adjusting to civilian life. While Otis has an old flame he reconnects with in Vietnam. Melvin and Eddie get less development, but the camaraderie of the four is excellent, as they do elaborate handshakes and have in-jokes. Norman, the fifth member is presented as an almost mythical figure, described as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Although he only appears in flashbacks, the loss they feel without him is clear.
The group are first reunited in modern-day Vietnam, a stark contrast to the usual depiction and how they remember it. The culture clash is even more jarring after the opening, which uses real-world footage about the war and black people’s struggles at the time (many of which are still present today). Just as things are settled, there is a grim reminder that, while time has passed, the war hasn’t ended for everyone. The film does a great job at exploring this theme, despite the aspect ratio and grainy footage, the characters remain the same age in flashbacks. No recasting or de-ageing ala The Irishman. It shows how they feel they haven’t changed since the war, as well as highlighting the tragedy of Norman being killed as a young man.
“After you’ve been in a war, you understand it never really ends”
The film is at it’s best during these moments, a simple interaction at a marketplace causing Paul to have a panic attack. Or a prankster setting off firecrackers meaning all four of them dive to the floor. It’s clear that despite the passage of time, they’ve never really forgotten. Paul’s support of Trump is implied to be a direct cause of the war, having spent so long being told people who look different are the enemy. This distrust extends to Vinh, the Vietnamese guide taking them to the jungle, whose family thought for the Viet-Cong. Like BlacKkKlansmen it makes use of real-world footage, here flashing footage of the horrors and figures of the Vietnam war. While these are quite jarring and distract from the film, they are incredibly effective. It’s one thing to hear about something but another to actually see it.
Unfortunately, the film does start to lose steam around the hour mark as it switches gears. Having found the gold, the veterans have to survive long enough to keep it. Becoming more of an Indiana Jones-style adventure film than, the Vietnam character study it was before. The film doesn’t totally abandon the themes, with Delroy Lindo delivering some exceptional monologues to the camera as Paul wanders the jungle alone, unable to trust anyone. While the action scenes are well done, they grow stale towards the end and are far less interesting than the psychological battles being fought. The film is also a touch too long, coming in at two and a half hours.
An effective and important tale that tackles it’s themes head on. Although things become unfocused in the later half, it is still a worthy watch, with a powerful perfomance from Delroy Lindo and some execellent uses of Marvin Gaye. It’s a shame the second act doesn’t hit as hard as it should, but it sticks the landing.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
Also Read: BlackKklansman (Review)