Spike Lee’s newest joint, “Da 5 Bloods” is his first foray into directing a full length feature for Netflix. Spike Lee continues to be on the top of his game like never before, giving us one of the most impactful and thought provoking films of his career. Spike Lee has created 2020’s first true Oscar contender. “Da 5 Bloods” is a heist story, a Vietnam war story, a story of brotherhood, a story of protest and a story of African American soldiers fighting for a country that feared and hated them. Lee weaves a compelling war movie the likes of which few filmmakers would even dare to tell. It’s certainly his biggest “action sequenced” movie and his bloodiest since “Miracle At St. Anna”. The violence here is off the charts that plays out like “The Deer Hunter” meets “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” with Lee’s trademark, social and political commentary. Even mixing in archival images of the 60’s and 70’s, mixing newsreel footage of American and black soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. Lee shoots the film through the use of three different aspect ratios and a soundtrack backed by Marvin Gaye. Not only is Spike Lee at the top of his game, so is the number of veteran black actors who are leading the film as “Da 5 Bloods”. While they are rarely given their moment to headline a movie, here they are knocking it out of the park. Delroy Lindo who leads the pack deserves the most attention and should be an instant contender for best actor. “Da 5 Bloods” is masterclass filmmaking by a master filmmaker. It is this years best film that is not to be missed.
There are a few filmmakers in Hollywood that you just can’t mess with. Directors who know their craft, roll out film after film with each one better than the last, directors who create flawless work. One of those filmmakers who you just shouldn’t bet against, question or doubt is the genius of Spike Lee. When Spike Lee is on, and has a vital message to deliver, nobody is better at it then Lee.
His newest joint “Da 5 Bloods”, is his first foray into directing a full length feature for Netflix. Spike Lee continues to be on the top of his game like never before. Coming only two years after his Oscar win for “BlackKklansman”, his Netflix film “Da 5 Bloods” is the rare Vietnam War movie that feels timely and important more than ever. It is Lee connecting the dots of this country’s racist past to its racist present through the lens of the experiences of the four leading men.
Throughout his career, Spike Lee has delivered some of the most culturally significant, generationally important movies of the last 30+ years, and he does it again with this years best film, “Da 5 Bloods”. It’s going to be a tough one to beat as this years winning contender for best of 2020. Instead of being presented (as it should be) in movie theaters across the country, we are getting it’s premiere exclusively on Netflix. The plus side is that now everyone will be able to watch this years best film.
Thankfully, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has ruled that Spike Lee’s film will, still be eligible for Oscar consideration and that’s a great thing because it deserves nearly a dozen nominations. The picture, the script and director Spike Lee all deserve nomination consideration, as does the booming score by Lee’s longtime collaborator Terence Blanchard. The five main leafs played by Isiah Whitlock Jr, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters and “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, all deserve best supporting actor conversation.
It’s veteran actor Delroy Lindo who deserves the most attention and should be an instant contender for best actor. Lindo who is very good on the CBS all access show “The Good Fight”, hasn’t had this distinct of a leading role since I can remember in Spike Lee’s wonderful 1994 film “Crooklyn”. There are monologue scenes that surely took up whole pages of the screenplay, as Lindo delivers them so powerfully that it takes us into the tortured core of Paul’s soul and reveals the horrifying depths of the pain he has felt for decades.
These are a number of veteran black actors who are rarely given their moment to headline a movie. Lindo, Lewis, Whitlock Jr. and Peters play Vietnam War vets who served under the command of Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), a revolutionary who leads with a “Black Power” fist in the air. On a mission, they uncover a cache of gold intended to pay off the Vietnamese army and decide to bury it and return for it later.
Only that plan blows up when they come under attack, as Norman is killed under mysterious circumstances and the area is napalmed so there’s no chance of finding the buried treasure. Years later, they return when a mudslide reveals the location, but the ghosts of the past still linger, bringing heartache and pain to the returning soldiers.
Paul (Delroy Lindo) displays increasing signs of paranoia and is constantly at odds with the rest of the group, particularly his son. The group doesn’t know whether to trust the French “businessman” Desroche (“The Professional” star Jean Reno) who has struck a deal with them to turn their gold into offshore bank accounts, or a trio of landmine activists (Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser and Jasper Paakkonen) who seem to be shadowing their every step. Then there’s the matter of a gun-toting group of Vietnamese “police” who aren’t police and are bent on separating the Americans from that treasure, no matter what it takes.
Spike Lee sets the mood for his two and a half hour epic by taking us back to the tumultuous era of the 1960s and 1970s. Old interview footage of Muhammad Ali from Feb. 26th 1968, opens the movie, as we see interview footage of him explaining why he wouldn’t fight in Vietnam: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother…some poor hungry people living in the mud. Shoot them for what? They never called me a n*****. They never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me”.
That’s when Lee cues up Marvin Gaye’s “Make Me Wanna Holler” as we see other archival images of the era as Neil Armstrong setting foot on “Da Moon” to Malcolm X, with video footage of the long history of black Americans fighting in war after war, mixing newsreel footage of American soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is a heist story, a Vietnam war story, a story of brotherhood, a story of protest and a story of African-American soldiers fighting for a country that feared and hated them. Lee weaves a compelling war movie the likes of which few filmmakers would even dare to tell. Although this isn’t Spike Lee’s first war movie….
That would be his extremely underrated but outstanding 2008 film “Miracle At St. Anna”, but “Da 5 Bloods” feels like both his most ambitious and his opus in being the perfect vehicle to play with “Miracle At St. Anna” and that of his docudrama technique, he used in “BlackKklansman” while making “Da 5 Bloods” something that’s undeniably massive in scale. It’s certainly his biggest “action” movie and his bloodiest since “Miracle At St. Anna”. The violence here is off the charts.
Spike Lee, who also co-wrote and produced with his team of writers have created an immersive, violent and sometimes shocking tapestry that plays out like “Deer Hunter” meets “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” with Lee’s trademark, steady undercurrent of subtle and not so subtle social and political commentary.
It’s always interesting to see Lee’s style put to use in a battlefield setting, as the usual Lee techniques are here, from the mixing of archival footage to the classic dolly shot. He also does something really interesting in that he doesn’t recast the characters during the flashback scenes, nor does he digitally re-age them (like Netflix’s “The Irishman”) until one particular moment in the film. It’s as if Lee is making the case that the ghosts of war are something that is ever present.
He further makes that point by connecting all of this to recent movements, including Black Lives Matter to show that the struggle for equality rages on and that the blood spilled by those who fought for it will not be forgotten. There is a strong message of solidarity that’s worth keeping in mind throughout these current complicated times. “Da 5 Bloods” offers powerful correlations to reality and marks a significant development for war films as a genre. Spike Lee’s voice is needed now more than ever, and he’s delivering the message in the way he knows best.
His film is really well-paced, while it’s one of the few movies set in Nam to use subtitles in a way that humanizes the North Vietnamese. Lee switches his lens back and forth through the use of three different aspect ratios, 1:33:1 (pan and scan) for the flashbacks, 1:85 (Flat) for the parts in Saigon and 2:35:1 (Scope) when the guys get back into the jungle. Lee also films his harrowing flashback battle sequences, through a lens replicating the color TV news footage of the time.
With the multiple aspect ratios and visceral action scenes, it feels like a movie that was made to be seen in theaters. It’s a shame we can’t experience this on the big screen. Backed by the soulful anti-war sounds of Marvin Gaye, his beautiful and powerful music is featured to great effect throughout the story.
Truly one of the most compelling films in quite some time. Spike Lee tackles the Vietnam War like no other filmmaker, bringing a game changing Vietnam epic about systemic racism that speaks to black history from slavery to the recent incident of George Floyd. This isn’t just a soul stirring film of the times we are living in, but it’s one for the decades, that the black community had to live through.
Spike Lee has delivered the most impactful and thought-provoking film of his career, creating 2020’s first true Oscar contender. Spike presents audiences with the kind of compelling perspective we’ve grown to love about him over his 30 year career. “Da 5 Bloods” is an in your face experience, powerfully relevant story about race, war and brotherhood. It’s led by Delroy Lindo giving a memorable performance. “Da 5 Bloods” is not one of the best movies of the year. It is the best movie of the year!
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5/5)