By Julius De La Rama, Second Year, Film & Television
In a cinema season that has been marred by delays and straight-to-VOD films that feel lazy and uninspired, Da 5 Bloods is the violent shot of energy that 2020 needed.
Da 5 Bloods is a tale of four war veterans who travel back to Vietnam in an attempt to recover a chest of gold worth millions, and to face the demons of their pasts. A near-kaleidoscopic experience combining different aspect ratios, eerily timely archival footage, and distinct eras, with Spike Lee working at an all-time high level of urgency - even if this is one of his messiest films yet.
If Da 5 Bloods had to be described in one word, it would be confrontational. That is, in turn, thanks to Delroy Lindo’s masterful performance as Paul - a member of the titular 5 Bloods.
It is one of the most self destructive and emotionally complex performances I have ever seen in a Spike Lee film. He is loud, obnoxious and angry. His political contradictions are a product of grief and rage towards an American system that has always considered black people as inferior. He dons a MAGA hat in an attempt to support change, but the blood-soaked red colour of the hat says otherwise.
If Da 5 Bloods had to be described in one word, it would be confrontational. That is, in turn, thanks to Delroy Lindo’s masterful performance as Paul
Chadwick Boseman also gives a fantastic performance, despite his limited screen time. He is described as the ‘Martin’ and ‘Malcolm’ of the 5 Bloods, stepping into the boots of leadership and standing out every second he is on screen.
It is a shame that the other characters are not given nearly enough detail and nuance for us to genuinely care about their motivations, especially when considering how exceptional Boseman and Lindo are.
Da 5 Bloods delves into ambitious territory, attempting to be a buddy heist, a recovery mission and a war film. The film operates at its best level when it considers the application of violence, and how the effects trickle down, whether you were a soldier or a civilian.
We see and hear Vietnamese soldiers talking about their relationships and families, only to be ambushed and killed by American soldiers. Black soldiers are sent to fight a battle they had no intention of getting into, while there is still an ongoing battle for racial equality at home. The modern relationship between the USA and Vietnam is sour, and the film explores these complicated tensions, but in such a small capacity. I was begging for more of that.
This is nowhere near the pinnacle of Spike Lee’s work; it is held back by poor editing decisions, weak side characters and it is just too long. But I have not stopped thinking about it. This film – in true Spike Lee fashion – is seething with anger. It recklessly shouts in your face, and admittedly, doesn’t always manage to strike a chord.
However, when it hits, it feels like a jolt of electricity to the system. Da 5 Bloods forces you to see the harsh reality and the repercussions of war, and if you can make it through all the senseless violence, you’ll see that there is still more work to do.
What is your favourite Spike Lee film? Let us know!