by Kevin Muller
For almost 40 years, Spike Lee has made some of the most memorable films to come out of Hollywood. His works are full of black pride, black history, and the overall nature of the black experience. With that being said, it took him 35 years to finally get an Oscar nomination. That one was for the incredible 2018 film, Blackkklansman which featured amazing performances by Adam Driver and John David Washington, son of Denzel, who has every bit of his father’s swagger and gift for performance. In the recent years, directors are flocking towards Netflix, because as we saw with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and Alfonso Cauron’s Roma, both my picks for best picture in their respective years, the studio lets the artist do their thing with little to no involvement. It’s now Spike’s turn, so how did he do?
In this film, four Vietnam veterans, Paul, Otis, Melvin, and Eddie, are reunited to recover both the treasure and the remains of their squad leader they left overseas. They all agree that their fallen comrade deserves to be buried in Arlington, with all the other American heroes. During their time in war, told in stylistic flashbacks, they encountered a downed plane with a massive amount of unclaimed gold bars. Since they had no way to safely carry it out of the war zone, they hid it in specific places to be later retrieved, along with the body of “Stormin” Norman Earl Holloway. Chadwick Bosman plays the enlightened leader. The living crew, all middle aged, seem to be living out their remaining days just fine. Eddie lives his life to the fullest by running a successful car dealership, Otis has just discovered a love child, now an adult, from an affair he had during the war, and Melvin seems to be proud of obtaining the family life a majority of Americans, especially those who have seen the horrors of war, strive to obtain. Paul’s younger son, David, joins the men in hopes to become closer to his P.T.S.D. ridden father and get him the help he needs. Each of these characters are fully realized and given justice by the actors that portray them. The deeper they go into the Vietnam wilderness, the more their individual problems, and ones with one another, start to arise.
While most directors mask their political opinions through symbolism, Lee is unsurprisingly uncensored about his feelings. This isn’t Lee’s first-time paying honor to the African American soldiers. His 2008 film Miracle at St. Anna had similar themes, but Lee’s voice here is much more predominant. While he may have gotten a little push back against his harsh criticisms of our current president, shown very early in the film, through both dialogue and footage of the rallies, he levels the playing field by having Paul proudly sport a MAGA hat while explaining why he believes in the our Commander in Chief. A black Trump supporter may seem like a cheap parlor trick, both Lee and Lindo, more on him later, make it important to show the other side of the characters’ and Lee’s opinions of the current president. The viewer may agree or disagree with that part of the film, but it would be hard to argue how this project shows Lee’s feelings about the unfair treatment of black soldiers. These broken men came back to a country that didn’t fully appreciate their service, and for some, their sacrifice. That anger is rightfully embedded into these four men.
David’s relationship with his father is the biggest emotional pull here. Despite Paul being broken, he truly wants to help his father. Lee, along with Lindo and Majors, guide this relationship perfectly. It is touching, without being overly sentimental. Jonathan Majors is great as David, especially since he is up there trying to keep up with four veteran actors. Melvin maybe the least complicated of the four, but that doesn’t make him any less important. Isiah Whitlock Jr. provides the comedic element to a dramatically heavy film. For fans of the actor, he does utter that four lettered vulgarity that he is well known for saying in all his roles. Whitlock also provides a great dramatic performance too. His costar here, and on the HBO series The Wire, Clarke Peters, provides the wisdom and calmness that he gave to that show. Norman’s wise words about life, war, and race, as a black man, seemed to have stuck with Otis the most. Peters has that Morgan Freeman vibe to him. As the hotshot Eddie, actor Norm Lewis provides an impressive depth to the character. He is a man who came home and decided to live his best life. Once the truth is revealed about him, you see how the war affected him as much as the others, but he used his bravado to block out the horrors of war. Even though Chadwick Bosman’s Norm isn’t on screen as much as the others, his presence is felt throughout the film. In his brief scenes, we are shown why these guys look up to him. He is everything that a leader should be: brave, intelligent, logical, and proud. Lee decided not to cast younger versions of the four in the flashbacks in the film. Those scenes aren’t that long, and the decision shouldn’t be that big of a distraction. Lee also shrinks the screen to a 4:3 box during these scenes. The cinematography helps the memories seem convincingly vintage. That isn’t to say that the present day scenes aren’t as impressive. The city of Vietnam pops in the beginning of the film and the jungles are equally as beautiful.
By far the best aspect of this one is Delroy Lindo. Over the course of 40 years, the actor has appeared in both mainstream and art house films, having only worked with Lee a handful of times. From the moment he steps on to screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him. There is a decent man behind the emotionally shattered former shell of a human being. His friends are all from the time that changed him, but he can’t help but to feel akin to them. Additionally, unlike the other characters, he has secret involving Norm that has haunted him since he came home. When he starts to come to terms with it, through a beautiful solo monologue right into the camera, with no cuts, you will understand both the character, and why Lindo will probably win everything come award season.
As with Lindo, there so much more to this film that hasn’t been discussed. Jean Reno and Paul Walter Hauser, who was recently the star of Richard Jewel, are equally as great as the villain who wants the gold for himself, and a fellow comrade who is thrown into this story. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is a powerful statement about war, friendship, regret, and the tribute to the underappreciated black soldiers of war.
I am giving Da 5 Bloods a 5 out of 5 Hairpieces!