Friday, June 12, 2020

Da 5 Bloods - Review

The pain and anger that flows through Da 5 Bloods is palpable, as so many works from director Spike Lee are. It’s not as though he is a subtle or reserved filmmaker in any sense of the word, but something about the anguish of these four men that served a country that did not serve them in return feels all the more powerful in the light of the past few weeks. And while its themes carry obvious tones of injustice and racial inequality, one rings out above the rest: some fights just never end.

Four African American vets (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis & Isiah Whitlock Jr.) battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the gold fortune he helped them hide.

The story takes place over two periods of time: in 70’s Vietnam and the present. A clear dichotomy is established between the two with some ingenious visual filmmaking. Spike Lee utilizes flashbacks, not in a way to insert wartime action in for the sake of the visuals it can provide, but to tell the audience about these men. The sequences are shot in a way that dramatize the men’s recall of what their time in war was, and the way things become romanticized as you get further and further away. It further adds to this portrait of men filled with regret, longing for the days where they pulled off remarkable feats of bravery rather than taking pills for bad hips or falling further and further into the PTSD that plagues them all. 

Nowhere does that idea become more prevalent than with Paul, played by the exceptional Delroy Lindo. The man has never let go of the high-octane past, living a life of paranoia fueled by fury and trauma. Lindo dives into the role with an unabashed commitment, selling the dark past behind the eyes of this very hurt Black man. While the others may be on this mission out of greed or nostalgia, Paul is clearly there for a form of vengeance that he feels he never got before, and Lindo sells it from the drop.

Hollywood has seen its fair share of Vietnam films, but Lee’s film feels like it wants to tell a different story. A handful have tackled the experiences of veterans when they come home, or even the horrendous actions Americans doled out in a foreign country, but none seems to tackle the broad scope of Da 5 Bloods. Lee, and co-writer Kevin Willmott, cover everything from American imperialism, the lives of Black men leaving a war just to find themselves in another country that doesn’t care about them, and the overall endless cycle of violence spread by those in power, told through the expert use of montages that utilize real life footage to accentuate the point.

Da 5 Bloods captures so many emotions, sometimes all at once, in a crackling, spirited window into the unbreakable bonds, and unending torment, formed by war. It’s a bold piece of storytelling, all coming to a head when Delroy Lindo addresses the camera directly, in a heartbreaking monologue that seals his status as one of the best performances of 2020. Even though these men survived, a part of them never really made it out of Vietnam, anchoring them forever to a place they never should’ve been.

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