"Da 5 Bloods" (2020)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Spike Lee
 Co-written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Willmott
Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors and Clarke Peters

‘A Powerful War Epic’

Few filmmakers in the world have established a trademark style as recognizable as Spike Lee. Ever since he launched his career with “Do the Right Thing” in 1989, Lee has proven to have a distinct style of making movies. You immediately know what to expect when you’re watching a Spike Lee joint: righteous black characters, themes of race relations and unsettling violence. While Lee’s unique style has garnered him a huge fan following, it has also attracted a fair share of detractors. To put it simply, his movies are not meant for everyone. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped the director from creating provocative work throughout his illustrious career.

Now, Lee is back on the big-screen and his directorial talents are clearly evident in his latest film “Da 5 Bloods”. An ambitious, gripping and powerful war drama, it offers a fascinating look at the lives of black soldiers in the Vietnam War. With his twenty-third feature, Lee has crafted a riveting account of the trauma faced by African-American veterans following the Vietnam War. Packed with stunning cinematography, impeccable technical elements and brilliant performances, it is a highly effective war drama. Although “Da 5 Bloods” is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It is slightly long, and suffers from a lengthy running-time. Nonetheless, it offers enlightening entertainment that will satisfy fans of Spike Lee.

Set in modern-day Vietnam, “Da 5 Bloods” tells the story of four American-American veterans that are forced to confront their traumatic past. Delroy Lindo stars in the lead role as Paul, an aging war veteran that is inflicted with PTSD. Along with his comrades Otis, Eddie and Melvin, Paul returns to Vietnam to search for the remains of his fallen squad leader. However, what starts out as a simple expedition soon turns dangerous when the veterans discover buried treasure. As the group becomes embroiled in racial conflict, their bond threatens to fall apart.

Writer/director Spike Lee has long been fascinated with themes of racial conflict. His films often tackle timely issues of race relations facing black communities in America. “Da 5 Bloods”, however, marks his first war drama and foray into the lives of soldiers in the Vietnam War. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to dramatize the experiences of African-American war veterans, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using captivating cinematography, Lee draws viewers into the lives of four veterans on a dangerous expedition. From intimate close-ups to dazzling double dolly shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s wartime setting. Working alongside cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, Lee creates a gorgeous film in which each frame is a breathtaking sight to behold. Lee excels at immersing viewers into the world of war veterans, and his latest joint is worth watching on Netflix for this reason alone.

If themes of racial tension do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Da 5 Bloods”. The film is extremely well-made, and features the most impressive technical elements that you’ll ever see in a war drama. The aspect ratios, locations and musical score are all carefully chosen, combining to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. Lee’s decision to shoot the film using multiple aspect ratios is risky, but it works tremendously. For instance, Lee employs shifting aspect ratios to differentiate the past from present. The widescreen 16:9 ratio immerses viewers into the present-day jungle expedition, while the smaller 1.33:1 ratio is used to establish flashbacks of the Vietnam War. Moreover, the musical score is also worth praising. Terence Blanchard’s operatic score is highly effective. It gives the film a gritty and unsettling atmosphere. Through awe-inspiring cinematic techniques, Lee keeps viewers engrossed in a war-torn world.

Another admirable aspect of “Da 5 Bloods” is the screenplay. Filled with fascinating characters, provocative themes and nonlinear storytelling, the screenplay elevates the movie to another level. Lee’s greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to subvert the expectations of viewers by using flashbacks. In Hollywood, most movies follow a formulaic three-act structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. This often leaves no room for surprises and detracts from the quality of the movie-going experience. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “Da 5 Bloods”. The film deftly switches back and forth between two timelines: the present-day struggles faced by war veterans and memory-like flashbacks of their wartime experiences. Through this nonlinear structure, Lee crafts a film that is utterly unpredictable. Flashbacks are tricky techniques to employ in war dramas, but they work immensely in this movie. Using an unconventional screenplay, Lee keeps viewers invested in the bond between veterans.

It is hard to not praise the powerful performances from the cast. In an award-worthy ensemble, every star gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression.

Delroy Lindo delivers his finest performance to date as Paul. Lindo has spent most of his career playing charming gangsters in period pieces. With “Da 5 Bloods”, however, he takes on his most multi-dimensional role to date. It is not easy to get into the mindset of a tormented war veteran that suffers from PTSD. It’s a challenging role that requires the actor to strike a fine balance between being sympathetic and despicable. However, Lindo pulls it off effortlessly. With mesmerizing expressions, he conveys the anger, grief and resentment of a veteran that loses faith in his country. It’s a phenomenal performance from one of the most underrated black actors working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Chadwick Boseman is brilliant and commands every flashback he is in as the ill-fated squadron leader Stormin’ Norman. Jonathan Majors is marvelous and imbues shades of humanity into Paul’s estranged son David. And finally, it is hard to not mention Clarke Peters. As Otis, he brings an air of quiet authority to the movie.

Although “Da 5 Bloods” is undeniably an unforgettable war drama, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a lengthy running-time. Accompanied by Terence Blanchard’s rousing score, Lee keeps the film moving at an engrossing pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its climax, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that the movie may not please everyone. The film tackles controversial topics such as racism, PTSD and the Vietnam War that will upset some viewers. Viewers that are sensitive towards graphic war footage may not enjoy the movie. Due to its disturbing themes, “Da 5 Bloods” is one of those films that may not appeal towards mainstream audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of Spike Lee will definitely enjoy “Da 5 Bloods” and so will movie-goers seeking exhilarating entertainment. A fantastic piece of filmmaking, it sheds light on topical issues facing the world today. In light of the recent black lives matter movement, it’s a timely reminder of the never-ending racial wars that African-Americans continue to fight today.

4/5 stars

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