Spike Lee has spent the last four decades directing some of the most thought-provoking, socially-conscious films in the industry, with films such as “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X” and “BlacKkKlansman.” His latest film released Friday on Netflix, “Da 5 Bloods,” is no exception.
The film tells the story of four Black Vietnam War veterans returning back to the country for the first time since battling in Vietnam. They returned for two reasons: to find the remains of the fifth “Blood” Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and to collect gold bars they had buried — and subsequently lost.
That’s the synopsis on a surface level. The film is moreso a history lesson on the atrocities Black veterans faced before, during and after the war and the fight for Black liberation than a tale of old pals reuniting.
The four surviving Bloods meet in Ho Chi Minh City, taking on the nightlife at a club aptly named Apocalypse Now — a nod to the 1979 Vietnam War film with the same title — and perusing the city with an appointed guide, Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen).
In the two hour and thirty-four minute runtime, Lee takes a look inside the personal life of each of the four Bloods. Otis (Clarke Peters) discovers he has a daughter from a wartime rendez-vous with another key character, Tiên Luu (Lê Y Lan). Eddie (Norm Lewis) was once rich but now broke following a few divorces and bad investments. Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) provides the most comedic relief with perfectly timed quips toward the other Bloods. Paul (Delroy Lindo) deals with intense PTSD from his time in the war, only intensified by his return to Vietnam.
Another insight into the life of Paul is revealed when his son, David (Jonathon Majors), shows up to the trip uninvited. Paul has never fully embraced his son, due in part to his post-traumatic stress disorder and the death of his wife upon David’s birth.
The relationships between the Bloods are volatile, often changing drastically from scene to scene. They all miss their former commanding leader “Stormin’ Norman” and yearn for the collection of their buried gold, but not all for the same reasons. Same goes for the achievement of Black liberation, from Paul’s donning of a “Make America Great Again” hat to a failed agreement on the disbursement of each Blood’s gold share.
I was never quite sure of the direction of the film until its final act. I was left feeling a myriad of emotions: depressed, empty, angry — all feelings that should be associated with the contents the film is based upon.
Lindo’s chilling performance as Paul outshines the solid turnouts from his counterparts, captivating each scene he was present in. He should expect an Oscar nomination, at the least.
Songs from Marvin Gaye’s 1971 “What’s Going On” album are dispersed throughout the film, perfectly juxtaposed with the violence and tension present.
Lee’s directing and cinematography leave no qualms. If there is a criticism of the film, it’s the sometimes erratic storytelling weaving its way through the present and past along with incorporating a slideshow of images and videos from history.
“Da 5 Bloods” is more than a history lesson, though; it’s a cautionary tale of the effects on the nature of humanity when it is stripped back to its core. Given the current social climate, the reminder couldn’t have come at a better time.