Da 5 Bloods
As expected from a clear-sighted filmmaker operating within Netflix’s seemingly unlimited confines – say what you will about much of their content, but this is the same platform that pieced together Orson Welles’s final film and gave us Roma – Spike Lee’s war drama Da 5 Bloods is an intriguingly unorthodox movie that showcases the auteur’s best sensibilities.
This story of four African-American Vietnam vets who return to Vietnam to search for both the remains of their fallen squad leader and some buried treasure is hardly a friendly viewing experience: it runs for a lingering two and a half hours, centres on an abrasive protagonist (portrayed by a career-best Delroy Lindo), features brutal archive footage from the Vietnam War, and smacks us in the face with social-political subtext. From the delicate moments of interpersonal drama to the pulse-pounding sequences of crossing minefields and engaging in shootouts with various third parties, virtually every scene ends with an exclamation mark.
Whilst the plot may be fairly generic – Netflix traversed similar territory in last year’s Triple Frontier – it’s Lee’s imprint that makes the narrative so worthwhile. The central characters are richly drawn and magnificently acted by the performers under his guidance. Several already have a shorthand from previously working with him, such as Lindo, Clarke Peters and Paul Walter Hauser.
Their contrasts and post-war insecurities are sharply depicted within the various strands of their reunion adventure, which include an awkward toast with former Viet Cong soldiers and a fortuitous encounter with a mine-clearing NGO, amplifying the film’s engagement with socio-political themes. Besides the severely underappreciated Dead Presidents, the number of movies that focus on black Vietnam veterans is nil. Da 5 Bloods shines a light on the PTSD and financial hardships faced by the soldiers when they returned to an unsympathetic America.
There’s a strong visual sense on display as the director employs a vivid colour palette to distinguish the characters’ memories of the jungle with the present day, in addition to a rotating set of aspect ratios that skilfully cohere the multiple locations and shifting timelines. Films revolving around the Vietnam War will always benefit from a brilliant soundtrack, and this one is no different, launching with Marvin Gaye’s gloomily pertinent record What’s Going On. It’s clear from this opening cue that Da 5 Bloods isn’t just a reflection on history, but a work of strong contemporary significance.
Da 5 Bloods is released digitally on Netflix on 12th June 2020.
Watch the trailer for Da 5 Bloods here: