This Spike Lee joint, like other Spike Lee joints, is a phenomenal work of art. It’s more than a film, it truly is a work of art. It’s visually complex. The size of the screen varies depending on the time period shown, and the camera shown to be using. The different textures, the quick cuts, the fourth wall breaking, the different tableaux, all show the stylistic brilliance of Spike Lee. This is definitely one of those movies that can be used to study movies.
Da 5 Bloods is the messy, high-stakes, complicated story of 4 Vietnam veterans who travel back to Vietnam to reclaim a treasure they had buried, and their fallen brother. Terence Blanchard’s score and Spike Lee’s visuals show the viewers how it is possible to contrast between varying circumstances with just sound and images, a perfect example of the classic show-don’t-tell principle . The plot is messy, it’s a little bit everywhere. The story might make you uncomfortable. There are no clear heroes or villains, one of the character’s has on a MAGA hat even. It is as complicated as war. And that’s probably what Spike Lee intended to highlight through this movie.
“We fought in an immoral war that wasn’t ours, for rights we didn’t have”, says one of the characters. The uncomfortable truths about wars and the American propaganda machine are all targeted in this film. Spike Lee speaks truths that most filmmakers don’t. He has a certain honesty that allows him to capture the complexity of morality, that makes sure he doesn’t make one-dimensional heroes of his characters. Every view point is problematised. What belongs to who, and who fought for what. The Black GIs and the Vietnamese seem to have fought each other, but for what.
Clips of Martin Luther King Jr. appear, and so do many others. Chadwick Boseman plays a character in the veins of the powerful black leader. When news of MLK’s passing away is heard, he demands that they “won’t let nobody use our rage against us.” And to ensure that “we control our rage.” Boseman appears in the flashback shots with the main four vets played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norman Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. All the characters put up stellar performances. It’s hard to look away from Delroy Lindo especially when he stares straight at us, the audience, and demands to be listened to.
Like BlackKlansman before it, Da 5 Bloods does a brilliant job of bringing the story to the real world, tying it up to very relevant issues in present day America, with the movie closing with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Spike Lee is an auteur whose brilliance seems to not be recognised by the mainstream. He won an Academy Award only very recently in 2019 for BlackKklansman. Da 5 Bloods forces the characters in the film, as well as the viewers to confront the reality of the war, and the reality of the lives of the black Americans, as well as the Vietnamese. The gold that they saved, went looking for, and finally found, takes lives, but also seems to end up helping lives.
A very relevant movie for today’s time, especially with the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Spike Lee’s movie is a lesson in history and a lesson in filmmaking. It would have been something else to watch this on a big screen, but for now, it is available to stream on Netflix.